Social media and Businesses on the web today are driven by the numbers game – of traffic, page views, and follower numbers. But the trend I foresee is:
The web is evolving from a numbers model to a relevance model.
Paradigm Shift: What is the Relevance Model?
Historically, monetization driven by CPC/CPM based advertising has led to websites and marketers focusing on page views and traffic. This is partly the cause of social media being spammed by internet marketers, ranking algorithms being gamed for traffic, and so on.
|# of Followers||Context-driven Lists|
|# of Clicks||# of Interactions|
|# of Page Views||# of Returning Visitors|
|# of Ads Displayed||Time spent on site|
|# of Ads Clicked||# of Subscriptions Gained|
|Obnoxious Ads||Relevant Ads|
|Influence Management||Dynamic Social Graph|
|Sharing Orgy & Noise||Curation|
|Information Overload||Filtered, Relevant Information|
|Traffic Economy||Attention Economy|
|SEO and SMO||Personalization|
The above table lists different attributes of this paradigm shift. The “Influence Management” entry links to a post by Mia Dand who describes how leveraging social media is often about using a handful of influencers (read: with large follower numbers) to spread your message. Contrast that with Dynamic Social Graphs as described by Robert Scoble, where influence is dynamically determined based on relevance and not just numbers.
The Facebook Kingdom was built on Relevance
The king of the social web, Facebook, was not built on numbers, but relevance.
The success of Facebook and why it has garnered over 400 million users is because it grew on a base of real-life friends who were relevant in the users’ social circle. Other networks have failed to challenge Facebook partly because they have tried to go the other way around – from numbers to relevance.
Prioritizing numbers over relevance is putting the cart in front of the horse.
Even as its explosive growth continues unabated, Facebook has not compromised on relevance. It knows that its success depends on users finding relevant content on Facebook and is willing to sacrifice advertising revenue to avoid becoming irrelevant.
I’ve touched upon various aspects of this ongoing theme while tracking the Google vs. Facebook race towards a relevant real-time. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that relevance wins over real-time.
Relevance vs. Real-Time in Location Check-ins
Consider the hottest trend of check-ins via location services, such as Foursquare or Gowalla.
When I check-in at a restaurant, the real-time checkins of my friends in other places is irrelevant. What is more important and relevant to me is the tips from my friends who have checked-in at the same place as I am right now.
In all cases, my friends are relevant in real-time only if they are at the same location as me. My other friends NOT at the same location become irrelevant.
Relevance wins over real-time.
The Mobile View
While mobile internet access grows, the screen of mobile devices remains constrained by its form factor. This is a major factor driving this evolution. If the content on your screen is constrained by its display, it had better be relevant.
Lifestreaming and Aggregation
As I discussed extensively in my post on why Google Buzz should not simply be yet-another-aggregator, lifestreaming and aggregation have failed to take off and gain mainstream adoption. The reason is simple – lack of relevance.
Startups focusing on Relevance
Quite a few startups are hoping to capitalize on this trend:
- my6sense – recently introduced an ‘Attention API’ allowing publishers to deliver relevant content to users
- Cadmus – auto-filters Twitter/RSS streams by relevance
- Knowmore – surfaces relevant stuff from Twitter/Facebook
- TwitterTimes – personalized aggregation from Twitter
- FeedTrace – personalized aggregation from Twitter
- VictusMedia – ‘Intelligent Media Manager’
- MixPanel – tracking what I’ll term “Relevance Analytics” for publishers
- Cascaad – personalized news stream based on social graph from Twitter/Facebook
From Around the Web
Here are related posts that further elaborate on this evolution:
- “Subscriptions are the new black” by Dave McClure (read GigaOm or RWW for a summary) says that startups should dismiss CPM/CPC ad-monetization hopes and instead focus on subscription and transaction-based models
- “The Death of the Pageview” by Tim Trefren, founder of Mixpanel says pageview/eyeball-based business models are obsolete, and you should be focusing on metrics for engagement and interaction instead
- “Twitter Fight a Symptom of Old vs. New Media” by Mathew Ingram, argues that relying solely on pageview/CPM-based business models is a flawed strategy for publishers
- “How to Design the Perfect Lifestreaming Content Reader” by Mark Krynsky envisions a cross-platform lifestreaming service that doesn’t compromise relevance
- “How do you define and capture relevance across the web” by Mark Essel discusses challenges and aims of VictusMedia’s personalized social reader