Mark Higginson

How attention flows on the web


30 November 2013

To spawn the next Facebook or Twitter, first launch a start-up contest. Promise the winner a sizeable equity investment, say £1m, and let firms from all over the world compete.

Start me up

This is the culture that has ruined the social facet of the web. Becoming successful, in terms of attracting a large number of people to actively use your service regularly, is enormously difficult. Further to that, if you’re goal is to have a profitable business then you’re looking at achieving the near impossible. Of course, this isn’t the intent of most ‘start-ups’. The game is to flip the business; an expanding userbase gives the business a notional worth which may attract investment on the basis that yet more investment might be attracted at a later date with the potential for a sale to a larger business, or in the rarest of cases, a flotation.

The former motivation, that of a desire to provide a useful service, is to be lauded. The latter, one of profit, is to be condemned. Profit is an outcome of an excellent service, not an end in itself. The reason is that it isn’t the business per se and the mythlogical ‘founders’ who create the value but the users of the service. And it is the users who are often neglected as the business behind the service tries to attract investment or sell itself. Take the appropriately named ‘Sold’ as an example:

“… we wanted to create something that affected people in a positive way. Something they had an emotional connection with. Something they trusted.”

Something which they can now no longer use.

This is why my own level of trust in new services is very low; it is also why I blog here rather than the attractive looking Medium, whose future path to profit is a mystery but I suspect will somehow be at the expense of all those currently creating the value through writing and attracting readers to their posts.

“It’s not hard to make money on the internet… if what you build is popular, it will make money. The question is will it be popular. They’ll make money once we try, if we get popular — not that we’re necessarily going to wait to get popular to make money. There are a lot of ways to do that.”

Evan Williams

How reassuring.

This post makes further interesting points: The Problem With Profitless Start-ups

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