Cafe Witness

Monday, February 23, 2009

We Need More Trolls

project 365 #17: troll dolls

Here's a paradox: most web services don't reach their full financial potential until they've attracted users who don't even appreciate the service in the first place.

Consider Facebook: sure, it was all the rage among the social media set a few years ago. But it couldn't be taken seriously by the mainstream until the people it was never intended for decided that they needed to use it. So, paradoxically, the service that was initially designed as an exclusive connection service for college students can only be considered to have "arrived" now that your grandmother can use it to stalk you.

This method of "acceptance" (and, therefore, acceptable financial risk for investors) is not limited to the web. If you've studied film history, you know there was a time before Star Wars, The Godfather and Jaws, in which a film was considered "a success" if it made more than $30 million and / or garnered a few awards. Now King Kong can become one of the biggest-grossing movies of the year and still be considered a financial flop. Expectations for mainstream success state that a film is only "a hit" if people who have no reason seeing it in the first place are somehow motivated to do so -- and budgets are based upon *those* projections, not the more realistic concept of actually attracting your intended audience.

This translates directly to YouTube, where numbers are all that matters. And no video that's garnered more than 60,000 views has done so without attracting both "the choir" (who simply parrot the video's merits in the comments) and "the trolls" (who believe everything is worthless). Only then can someone say their YouTube video was "a success."

One of the many ironies inherent in this arrangement is that a service, tool or medium can only succeed if the rule-breakers, innovators and trend-setters adopt it early enough to make it interesting -- and then that interest must be borne out by attracting the bulk of society, who couldn't care less about the original reason the service, tool or medium was invented in the first place. Only then, once the original intent has been polluted, the initial audience driven away and whatever magic made the experience remarkable in the first place has finally been expunged, can the world at large finally admit that the entire venture has been a worthwhile success.

By that rationale, anyone with a new business idea should find the shortest distance between themselves and the mass attraction of trolls. Because, ugly and destructive as they may be, trolls are also a harbinger of something else: an IPO.

Image by flisspix.

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