Self Operating Machines
I seem to stumble every day across some new firm propping itself up on the shoulders of Google, Yahoo! or others to take advantage of a current wrinkle in an otherwise perfectly efficient landscape. The fact is, however, that these wrinkles never seem to disappear. These advertising mechanisms emerged alongside of the pure media companies, starting with Doubleclick back in 1996, and followed by other advertising networks such as Flycast, Overture and Advertising.com, each firm iterating on the prior model to gain some head room from the imminent internal advertising service offerings of the pure media companies.
Although these advertising technologies have focused on targeting the behavior of consumers, they have also tended to ignore the role of consumers in the production process of the media that they consume. This is why these networks tend to dynamically balloon in terms of sales growth. They capitalize on a behavioral blindspot, where the supply of inventory versus the demands of advertising value are disjointed. As consumers become smart about these artificial mechanisms (banners, keywords, freeipods) their effectiveness drops and they look to get acquired by larger media entities.
The elusive goal of internet media (and the advertising that drives its value) has been to keep up with changing consumer preferences as the technologies of communication continue to evolve. The adoption of a new means of using the Internet (whether it be ecommerce, webmail, search engines, or shortly blog readers) creates enormous economic value for the donors incredibly quickly.
The latest shift in online consumption has been the institutionalization of amateur publishing tools. The unique attribute of RSS is how simply it enables individual publishers of data to connect with individual subscribers to such data. RSS tools like typepad, flickr, adsense and del.icio.us have made it easy for individuals to syndicate their preferences, memories and desires. RSS tracking tools like feedburner make it easy for individuals to track who is paying attention. At the site you are on, I am streaming my Flickr photos, am recommending books as an Amazon associate and am promoting a Google ad-sense ad.
Not unlike dial-up authentication protocols (remember the classic AOL logon "hand-shake"), the interaction between RSS feeds and their readers is a structured negotiation: do you, John Q. Public, agree to take the whole feed, nothing but the feed, until you delete it? I do. Click.
When you aggregate all of these individual reading and writing agents, it looks more like a landscape of cellular automata than a tradition publishing model. This would seem to be the essence of social media (props to my wife and guide Tina Sharkey for coining this years ago and registering the domain) and social computing, two memes that seem to be growing in influence. When individual decisions such as applying certain tags to pages or photos achieve a broad social consensus, then it as if these tags begin to self replicate which is the essence of automatic behavior.
There is a good word to describe this, which comes out of physics, namely Excitable Media. as per Wikipedia:
Cellular automata provide a simple model to aid the understanding of excitable media. Each cell of the automaton is made to represent some section of the medium (for example, a patch of trees in a forest, or stress in heart tissue). Each cell can be in one of the three following states:
Quiescent or excitable -- the cell is unexcited, and can be excited. In the forest fire example, this corresponds to the trees being unburnt.
Excited -- the cell is excited. The trees are on fire.
Refractory -- the cell has recently been excited and has not yet been through the refractory period. A patch of land where the trees have burnt and the vegetation has yet to regrow.
The concept of cellular automata is useful as a metaphor for next generation Internet content, which is similarly dynamic, member-generated, and excitable. In the next post, I will focus on algorithms, as they transform the automatic social media into business rules and procedures.