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A sane view of the social media future

Chantal Forster | May 4 2009

One of the most level-headed web strategy blogs I regularly read is written by Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research. Over my morning cup of oolong from yesterday, I found myself issuing an "Amen, brother" when reading this post:

The Future of the Social Web: In Five Eras 

One can't help but ask as they read Forrester's prediction:

  • Am I feeling hopeful, but annoyed at the inanity of maintaining separate Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, Digg, and Delicious accounts? 
  • Am I feeling empowered, but at the same time overwhelmed by so many options with so little meaningful impact?

To me this is evidence that we're still mired in an overly exuberant phase of the social web. A period when inconvenience is the price that some are willing to pay for the high of self-expression, connectivity, and the pride of being early adopters.

But, according to Forrester, the pain will be relatively short-lived. Here's the trajectory they map:

The Five Eras of the Social Web

  1. Era of Social Relationships: People connect to others and share
  2. Era of Social Functionality: Social networks become like operating system
  3. Era of Social Colonization: Every experience can now be social
  4. Era of Social Context: Personalized and accurate content
  5. Era of Social Commerce: Communities define future products and services

Barring a world takeover by alien introverts, the social web will ripen in 2014 with the useful and productive enmeshment of commodity creation with online communities. View a map of the eras' timing.

CRM Magazine posts a fleshier review of the Forrester report, providing better examples of each era.

Good News For Consumers

This is NOT bad news. For regular people anyway; those of us frequently called consumers.

"The community will take charge," Owyang tells CRM magazine in a one-on-one interview, "and that's going to happen whether or not marketers or brands participate."

Social networking, he adds, will only continue to facilitate the power shift toward the consumer. "Customers trust each other more than [they trust] anybody else," Owyang says.

Decentralizing Client Websites

What will this mean for traditional websites? Forrester predicts a deconstruction of the all-encompassing online presence where a company owned and controlled its online real estate.

The successful brands, Owyang says, will be the ones that "let the most popular content spread to the community and the customer[s] where they exist."

Let the era of listening begin.

[Hand-drawn Facebook icon by Janko at Warp Speed]

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