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The First Mile in Social Media

by Dan Robles on February 6, 2009

The Last Mile….

Back in the early days of Broadband, the cost of sending a signal across the Pacific Ocean was negligible compared to the cost of delivering that signal to everyone in town – the problem was called the called “The Last Mile”.

Predictably, companies battled it out in the Dot-Com Wars with a flurry of IPOs and hostile takeovers clambering to fill “The Last Mile” void.  Then the issue largely disappeared.  I guess the cable TV folks figured it out because that is who I send my money to for the speedy bits.  Last week I was chatting with the FiOS folks burying fiber optic cable near my mailbox.  They said it’s going to get faster.

…of Social Media….

Social media currently suffers from “The Last Mile” syndrome.  Social Media applications have enabled me to make friends in India, Israel, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, and everywhere in between. I can shout out to 3 million people with the click of a mouse, but not the wonderful family living a few houses down the street.   I met them while chatting with the FiOS folks who were burying fiber optic cable near our mailboxes.

…is where the rubber meets the road

I really enjoy my online friends and the sharing of information makes me smarter and introduces me to new ideas.  But these ideas are not very productive until I apply them to something that actually touches the ground, like the FiOS cables.  The secret to finding a business case for social media can be found in “The Last Mile”.  It would seem that innovators and entrepreneurs would be strafing each other to fill this vastly under served market and lucrative market segment. This is where the money is. Hello, is this thing on?

But the scalability is lost.

I have found a few applications like Meet-up, Biznik, Ning, Neighborex, Start-up Weekend, etc., but they are just not catching fire like the calculus suggests that they should.  The problem is that the scaling is lost.  The advertising revenue model carried over from radio and TV requires millions of impressions to be viable.  The demographic of “The Last Mile” are groups of 2-8 people living within a few miles of each other – a corporate business model just does not exist to serve “The Last Mile”.

The First Mile…

Meanwhile, the old one-way advertising model is dying off quickly and the two-way advertising paradigm is sending all the major corporations and media outlets to the drawing board looking for the social media strategy.  Corporation are now expected to provide real value to a community, but they can’t figure out how to scale that value. The Irony is that most of those same corporations were started by 2-8 people living within a few miles of each other.  Maybe we should call it “The First Mile” and then re investigate the role of Social Media.

…holds the the secret sauce…

In the future of innovation economics, patents will not be the most valuable object, rather, the secret sauce that comes up with the innovations that will be the most valuable.  Corporation can employ social media to provide a practical and repeatable program that empowers a community.  Corporations can strategically assemble local entrepreneurs into spin-off entities. Corporations could license their IP, open-source their technologies, share internal strategy, and provide executive coaching that helps community teams to form new corporations discovering tangential and future markets.  Corporations should teach people what they do best – making money.

…where the scalability is found.

So where is the scalability?  Hey, let me hop on my new FiOS line with my 8 friends from down the street and we’ll just shout out to our 24 million global neighbors – and we’ll get back to you.

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