scoble-starfish

Robert Scoble is one of the world’s leading evangelists of all things digital. Previously with Microsoft, Scoble has also worked with Fast Company among others. He is perhaps best known as a blogger: millions around the world read it every day. And one of Scoble’s most famous creations is his starfish, a great, colorful visualization of the amorphous social-media landscape. Inspired by Brafman and Beckstrom’s “The Starfish and the Spider,” Scoble emphasizes the online media ecosystem’s decentralized and interconnected nature. Below, we dissect the starfish, laying out each medium’s strengths and weaknesses and examining which players are converting each into eyeballs and dollars.

Video

Strengths:
youth audience, viral, multiple senses, easy to embed, creativity, control over message
Weaknesses:
production costs, online video not as popular with adults, oversaturation
Services:
YouTube, Google Video, Kyte, Seesmic, Hulu
Conversions:
Politicians and interest groups use video to spread the word. Aspiring musicians and filmmakers can market themselves on the cheap. Grey-market entrepreneurs who provide links to TV shows and movies are making a killing off ad sales.
Who’s making money?
Let’s face it: YouTube will never be the cash cow Google expected it to be. And how annoying are those commercials networks lace their videos with? There is hope, however, in sites such as Hulu, where the big boys get a share of the pie.

Photo

Strengths:
“worth a thousands words,” cheap, easy to share across platforms
Weaknesses:
static, copyright confusion
Services:
Flickr, Zooomer, SmugMug
Conversions:
Citizen journalism sites such as Gothamist and CNN’s iReport are thriving off our Flickr photos.
Who’s making money?
Flickr has stayed afloat with its premium subscriber model but Yahoo suitors such as Microsoft may think they can squeeze more money out of the photo-sharing leader.

Blog

Strengths:
personal, interactive, multimedia, free and easy to use
Weaknesses:
Casual tone can lead to political and corporate gaffes. Many companies are leery about opening themselves to criticism through comments or linking. “Post or die”: maintaining a popular blog is a full-time job.
Services:
WordPress, Blogger, TypePad
Conversions:
Google, Wal-Mart, Amazon, McDonald’s and Whole Foods are among the most powerful corporations with successful. – and surprisingly readable – corporate blogs.
Who’s making money?
Blogs are the lifeblood of what Internet evangelist Jeff Jarvis calls the new “link economy.” According to a Wall Street Journal story, more Americans earn a living today from blogging than firefighting or computer programming (although some bloggers have questioned the Journal’s accounting).

Events

Strengths:
Welcome to the real world.
Weaknesses:
“If you build it, they will come”—except when they don’t.
Services:
Zvents, Evite, Eventful, Upcoming, Facebook
Conversions:
Scoble likes to talk about an unofficial Obama rally that was organized online and drew more than 4,000 supporters – plus the future President.
Who’s making money?
Depends on the cover charge.

Collaborative Tools

Strengths:
internal efficiency, transparency
Weaknesses:
Expensive and buggy. Will our privacy evaporate in a cloud?
Services:
Zoho, Zimbra, Google Docs
Conversions:
Google’s ever-evolving collaboration tools build brand loyalty (not to mention dependency).
Who’s making money?
By keeping its programs in perennial beta mode, Google can scrap unprofitable – or just plain crappy – creations while saving face. What happened to Vista Beta, Mr. Gates?

Wikis

Strengths:
Crowdsourcing, transparency, unabashed geekiness: Wikis are the coolest social media on the block.
Weaknesses:
The hazards of democracy: Wikis are fair game for critics, pranksters and sh*t disturbers.
Services:
Pbwiki, Twiki, Wetpaint
Conversions:
Wikipedia, anyone?
Who’s making money?
Wikis are the NGOs of the Internet economy. They won’t make money, but the geeks won’t let them fail.

Audio

Strengths:
intimate, easy and cheap
Weaknesses:
Radio is so 1930s.
Services:
BlogTalkRadio, Odeo, podcasts
Conversions:
The Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network just keeps growing.
Who’s making money?
Even public-radio producers have embraced mid-podcast advertising, which is somehow less annoying than video ads (how can you not buy a mattress endorsed by Garrison Keillor’s soothing baritone?)

Email

Strengths:
personal and timely
Weaknesses:
spam!
Services:
MediaPost, AWordADay, TPM Daily Digest and other so-called Bacn.
Conversions:
Six months after the election, President Obama is still tapping into his campaign e-mail trove to sell himself to the American people.
Who’s making money?
We’re so used to ads in our inbox, who would mind a few more?

SMS

Strengths:
even more personal, even more timely
Weaknesses:
except for when cell-phone carriers fail to deliver on time
Services:
Communications Channel
Conversions:
Obama announcing his running mate via SMS was a neat idea, but the cat was out of the bag hours before that early-morning text.
Who’s making money?
As if the Verizons and Videotrons of the world needed another revenue stream.

Microblogs

Strengths:
niche, timely, personal
Weaknesses:
limited audience, time-consuming
Services:
Twitter, Jaiku
Conversions:
Freelance writer Daniel Baum blabbed in 140-character form about his rise and fall at The New Yorker – just in time for his new book launch.
Who’s making money?
So far, Twitter is another VC trust-fund baby. But its powerful real-time search capabilities make it extremely attractive to a conventional search engine such as Google, whose results will always be a few steps behind.

Personal Social Networks

Strengths:
It doesn’t get much more personal than this. An advertiser’s dream.
Weaknesses:
Some might think twice before playing in another company’s walled garden.
Services:
Facebook, Myspace Linked In
Conversions:
Facebook has converted nearly every high school and college-aged kid into a computer geek and online consumer.
Who’s making money?
Program developers, online marketers and Mark Zuckerberg have all made a pretty penny from Facebook. But questions about proprietary rights and privacy continue to loom over the site.