You've no doubt heard about the term "market share"--what portion of the total market for something is controlled by one brand or one company. And I recall that in the 90's one of the management fads was "customer share"--what share of the customer's IT budget your product accounted for. And I'm sure there are a dozen more "___ share" terms floating about.
You've also heard about web ventures that want to "attract eyeballs" as a way of "monetizing their asset". Which in English means, "we can get paid a small amount of money per person who views and/or clicks on an ad... and that's how we're going to get some revenue to offset all the costs in programmers and servers that we're racking up with our web 2.0 service".
Of course, the monetizing isn't that easy. More on that later. But now that I've been interacting with email, photo sharing, social networking, and other web-based services, I've come to see that the battle is all about "screen share"--whose screen you see when you go about your internet business. In other words, whose application will you use, and therefore whose ads will you be exposed to.
Take the example of sharing a photo. Thanks to advances in cell phone and digiital image technology, and the avaiability of reasonably cost-effective bandwidth, taking a photo on the spur of the moment and sharing it is quite simple. Had Brian been willing to stand still long enough, I could have taken his picture at the top of the run at Heavenly Valley, with Lake Tahoe in the background, and posted it or emailed it before I got to the bottom of the mountain. (Of course, with my skiing skills, Pony Express could deliver it before I got to the bottom of the mountain, but that's another story).
So consider my options for sharing that photo:
- I can send it as a "multimedia" message... basically a text message with a photo attached (except that I have an iPhone, which doesn't support this basic service)
- I can email it to my friends using a service like gmail or Yahoo mail
- I can post the photo to a photo sharing site like Kodak Gallery or Phanfare
- I can post it to my Facebook page
- I can post it in a "discussion" on my LinkedIn page
- I can send a "tweet" with a link to the picture
- I can post it to my weblog
There are pro's and con's of each approach. But what's interesting is that wherever I choose to post it will determine what ads you see when you view it. Unless you view the photo on my weblog (which has turned out to be a not-for-profit venture), someone's going to be showing you ads. They may be targeted ads, like something at the top of the gmail browser that says "ski vacations, click here". They may be unrelated, like the "IQ" ads I keep seeing on Facebook. Or they may be anywhere in between.
And the odds are that wherever you view that photo, you will likely respond using that same web site or application. If I send a text message or email, you'll likely reply with a text message or email. If I post it on Facebook, you're less likely to send me an email saying "cool picture, who's the stand-in for an actual skier?!", and more likely to comment via posting a comment on my "wall". And if you write on my "wall", guess whose ads you'll see?? And when everyone else sees that you commented on my picture...
So it's clear that the first battle may have been about creating a fan base (and keeping it interested). The next battle is about steering that fan base to your application for all their social networking needs. And since social networks are non-exclusive clubs, and since we all have text messaging and email accounts, it's all about creating the most useful, easiest to use application. After all, we're all lazy in a way, and will use your application to carry on our conversations if the application is reasonably easy to use, reasonably unintrusive, and so on.
So the battle is on, and corporate America is beginning to pay attention. Hell, even Oprah and Shaq use Twitter. Who will win? Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Oh, sorry, wrong show. It will be interesting to watch...