Dancing Towards Armageddon

28 Jul ’07

A few weeks ago I read a fascinating article in the NYT about artists who are using social media tools, like Myspace, to market their music and their performances, and how this is changing the face of music. Darned if I can find it now. What struck me in particular was how much time it took for the artists covered in the piece to do this, and how that time was eating into the time they would have otherwise spent on creating music, or just living their lives. This makes sense of course – if you take over the marketing yourself, you need to spend time on it. If the label does it, not so much. Of course, many artists can’t get the attention of labels, so this is for many a net positive, though still a very expensive (in time) way of reaching people. And of course, as the industry struggles with declining revenues, perhaps this will be the path for more artists.

But in the long run, I wondered, is this approach sustainable? For many, the charm of being intensively involved in social media has a limited shelf-life. We’ve all seen bloggers who hang up their – er, blog – after a couple of years, because they’ve lost enthusiasm for reading and writing every day. Well, how would it feel if your livelihood depended on you blogging, responding to comments from fans, and so on, every single day? Not so great, I thought. And, I wondered, once you’ve started, and conditioned your fans to expect this from you, how do you change? At some point, your livelihood would depend on sustaining a pretty rich interaction with your fans. An interaction which, to remain authentic, would have to come from the artist. Sounds like a pretty tough gig, to me. Quite apart from the intensely corrosive and destructive nature of much commenting these days.

If you’re a regular reader here (and if you are, bless you but are you absolutely barking mad?), you’ve noticed that for quite a while I haven’t been blogging very much. And you’ve read a few posts here venting about how much triviality and nonsense is wrapped up in the Web 2.0 phenomenon, and how far too much of it feels like a serious waste of time.

Well, today brings another data point on this issue. As Valleywag puts it, it may be the antibiotics talking, but Jason Calacanis seems really put out by the time it’s taking him to use social media – so much so that he’s declared Facebook bankruptcy – and by the seemingly generally useless nature of many of the comments he gets on his blog (“It feels like the comments are a place for the same five wacky folks to use sockpuppets to debate themselves and spew bile while linking back to their adsense honeypot”). Of course, Jason’s not the only person lately to have complained about comments – Joel Spolsky had a nice rant on it a few days ago.

Now, judging from the tone of his posts it may be that Jason had a weekus horribilis at Mahalo (ironically enough, I wouldn’t know anything about Mahalo, since I’m spending enough time on the Web already and don’t have the time to try new tools). But I’ve been wondering for a while how anyone can get anything useful done spending as much time blogging, commenting, facebook – er – ing, and twittering as much as some people do. And so to me, Jason’s outbursts last week make perfect sense. He strikes me as a guy who wants to do things, rather than just talk about things being done by other people. And I bet that it’s very frustrating to come off a great day with the team, having solved a lot of problems, or having done something just really terrifically great, to read a load of bile in the comments on the blog, or to see a boatload of to do items on Facebook. Blech.

Lately, I’ve really noticed the contrast between the quality of my experiences offline and online. It’s been a particularly great few months, with many new and interesting clients and mandates, including a lot of young companies who need help figuring out the basics. I’m really noticing the contrast between how satisfied I feel working with people like that, and how empty so many of my recent social media experiences have been.

Fred doesn’t look at this the way Jason does, and thinks Jason needs a vacation. Maybe he’s right. But Fred invests in the kinds of things Jason’s complaining about, so I can’t help but wonder whether he’s looking at the issue with a disintererested eye.

I bet Jason’s posts get a lot of attention today. Outsiders will be inclined to agree somewhat, insiders will criticize him or say he needs a rest. Personally, I think Jason’s on to something. I think far too much of social media is about building toys for idle geeks to play with. Much ink is spilled dressing it up and creating smart justifications for the time required (these are, after all, bloggers defending the personal choices they’ve made), but at the end of day we are still very 1.0 and much work needs to be done making these tools more useful and (much) more efficient.

Update: To be fair, a lot of navel gazing happens on weekends because that’s when people have the time to do it, but Ethan does have a point.

Updater: I’ve just taken a quick pass through the reaction to Jason’s piece, and (predictably) the in crowd is defending its own choices by trashing him. Hilariously, one of the approaches is to pretend that it doesn’t actually take a lot of time to process Facebook stuff, and so forth. And also predictably, it’s an argument made by people who’ve made the choice to spend just about every waking moment online.

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