Have you ever thought about the number of platforms to which you could contribute or from which you get notifications about your friends’ contributions? Here’s a quick list off the top of my head:
- Trip Advisor
That’s a dozen. Having left out all the niche communities, commenting on blogs, and engaging with brands, I’m sure I’m missing a few dozen or more.
Much has been written and said about the value we’re now producing with our Cognitive Surplus thanks to the internet’s ability to connect people. I don’t deny the amazing achievements. However, the extraordinary resources and talents that have been dedicated to the exploitation of the Cognitive Surplus have pushed us to (or perhaps taken us way past) a tipping point.
In Clay Shirky’s talk introducing the idea of the Cognitive Surplus, he estimates, “The world has over a trillion hours a year of free time to commit to shared projects.” Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange has conducted research demonstrating that American social network users spent an average of 3.2 hours per day on social media in 2013. eMarketer reports that there were 1.73 billion social media users worldwide in 2013. If you extrapolate American daily usage to the rest of the world’s users (admittedly a thought experiment and not a measure of today’s reality), you end up with 2.02 trillion hours per year spent on social media. So, it’s easy to imagine the world doubling the available estimated cognitive surplus, turning it into a massive deficit.
I don’t even need the numbers to make the argument. I can feel it. I am stretched thin. The opportunities to share feel like obligations, I forget or question who I’m talking to (the community or the advertisers?), and I feel the Cognitive Deficit weighing me down.
Of course, the inherent human desire to connect is a huge driver of the time spent on social media. People like it. But, those of us looking to moderate our usage find ourselves in conflict with the social networks’ business goals. They profit from advertising. Revenue growth from most advertising models comes from increasing the size of the audience and the amount of time each member of the audience spends with the product. There’s an incentive to gain as much of your attention as possible until it demands your every minute of every day. The social products have become extremely adept at pushing towards this end. That world doesn’t appeal to me.
Yet, I am very optimistic excited about two trends that already drive big business and I believe are about to get much, much bigger in part due to their ability to alleviate Cognitive Deficit:
1. Service Advertising: ads whose value derives from the extent to which it serves the user’s current need as opposed to merely brand awareness. They make the user say, “Thanks for that info!” AdWords is the best example I know of. Twitter and Facebook may be headed in this direction. If the business model for Social Networks is more about the value of each interaction, the total number of interactions may become less important to the bottom line. The businesses will be less incentivized to horde my attention.
2. Predictive Service Technology: services that take ordinary tasks off your plate by learning what you need done and when you need it. This creates the opportunity to reallocate cognitive energy from tedium to creativity. Examples: Google Now, Nest, and soon to come, Brief.
I’ll be writing a lot more about Predictive Service Tech going forward…