Arrington has staged a mock intervention for Scoble, whose ‘addiction’ to Friendfeed (and to a lesser extent, Twitter) has led to a serious diminution of his blogging, and for what?
I asked Robert how much time he actually spends on those services. He monitors them all day, he said, hitting refresh over and over on both (he doesn’t use desktop clients to manage the services, and he says he doesn’t like real-time streaming feature on Friendfeed). In addition to watching all day, he says he spends at least seven hours a day, seven days a week, actually reading and responding directly on those services.
That’s 2,555 hours over the last year.
Which is more than a full time job (2,000 hours/year).
It is more than 106 full 24 hour days interacting with those services in aggregate.
It is an addiction.
What is the cost of this addiction? Well, I’ll put his family life aside, that’s his business. But his blog has clearly suffered. He now posts only a few times a week, sometimes sporadically writing multiple posts in a day but often skipping 3-4 days in between. A year ago, Robert wrote multiple posts, every day. I used to read his blog daily, now I visit once a week.
“Some people tell me my thought leadership has declined as I’ve blogged less.”
What has he gained? On Twitter Robert has nearly 45,000 followers and has written over 16,000 messages. On Friendfeed Robert has nearly 23,000 subscribers.
So lots of people follow Robert on those services, but they aren’t visiting his site and the content he writes is on someone else’s server. Plus all that content is just really forgettable, compared to a good thought piece that people refer back to over time. There is no direct way to monetize any of that content, which is something that a full time blogger with a family really needs to think about.
Meanwhile, all this attention from Robert has certainly helped the valuations of Friendfeed and Twitter. How much of that value does Robert receive? Zilch.
Much of what Arrington is saying rings so true, and primarily because Scoble is such an outlier, such an anomaly. However, the general trends of how Scoble, and others, have shifted their web interaction is more interested than the naked numbers without a trend line.
Robert is the guy that put the sizzle in RSS, you may recall, back when he was a fire-eating blogger. He was following hundreds of blogs — back in 2004 he was reading 2000? He has always overdone in the line of consumption; he’s like watching an eating contest: it’s either amusing or nauseating, but it’s certainly not for the average person.
So what has really happened is not some normal web user who has all of a sudden started spending seven hours a day in his underwear, not showering, smashing the return key. He’s transitioned from roughly N hours of blog reading via RSS to N hours of conversation (with many, many links) via streaming applications.
We can divide this discussion into two parts:
- The intervention into Robert’s psychology and behavior that leads him to spend so much time hitting the return key: I will leave that to others to dwell on, after mentioning that if Scoble is doing something dangerous to his health or well-being we have been supporting him for five years or more.
- The transition from a web-of-pages, where the principal source of critical information is found on static, unitary web pages, generally written by a single owner/author, and where comments are left on those pages by ‘visitors’, to the web-of-flow, where conversation has left the web-of-pages and moved into flow applications, like Twitter and Friendfeed. Robert has moved into this new context, more or less organically, and he now spends his time chatting instead of writing blog posts. Arrington is principally ranting against this transition to flow, making the case that Scoble to helping Friendfeed enormously without recompense, and losing all the traffic that he might have passing by a blog where he could make money selling ads, like Arrington does.
I have said for years that traditional media — and Arrington has become mainstream media at this point, a Murdoch in the making — would war against the movement from pages to flow: they will say it is illegitimate, immoral, fattening, addictive, whatever.
Arrington’s points make sense relative to a certain perspective. In essence he is saying that time we spend engaging with others on the web has got to have a point, otherwise it’s just hanging out. And in the simplest terms, you should either be making money from becoming heavily invested (and well-known) on the web, or doing something else of great value.
Scoble maintains that his involvement with those in his various networks has great value, and that his more tangible work — his video series — has improved because of this involvement. But Arrington’s argument is stronger, at least to Arrington and other realists, since, implicitly, if Scoble went to work for a media outlet like TechCrunch and devoted his energies to media work that was more monetizable than the amorphous ‘following’ he has amassed in Flowland, he’d be worth millions. And he isn’t using his great hypothetical influence on the web to cure poverty, or end the genocide in Darfur, or overturn prop 8, either. He’s just fooling with tools.
But Scoble is some sort of idealist, maybe even a utopian, who sees the distant glimmerings of a new tomorrow, one that hasn’t been figured out yet. Arrington is right that Scoble can’t sell ads on his Friendfeed stream. Yet. So in very concrete terms, Scoble is losing serious bank while he is putzing around with all this social community chit-chat stuff.
And to a lesser extent, so are all of us that Twitter all day. Some a certain viewpoint, it’s like sitting on the porch and whittling.
But Robert is a early adopter, and not necessarily even the ablest promoter of the movement he is in.
The rise of flow and the new form of social connection that these flow applications engenders will slowly erode the edges of the more established, page-based Web 1.0 publishing models, like TechCrunch, Huffington Post, and whatever it is that the newspaper behemoths metamorphose into before finally shutting off their printing presses. Something new will emerge, out here, at the far fringes of Flowland. I believe it will recast the older forms of media, reshape them, like TV did to radio, and web 1.0 has done to print. But it’s going to take a long time, a decade or more, and a million baby steps to get there.
Scoble’s in love with the edge, and he doesn’t apparently want to monetize every waking second of his life. But is not an addiction: he’s blinded by the light, which is a whole different problem.