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Blogging: A world stuck on itself

Venture capitalist David Hornik warns that the Web logging world is inadvertently getting caught up in a trap of its own design.

More than a year ago, I began collaborating on a blog with a couple of other colleagues from work about changes in the venture capital industry.

We were particularly excited about the power of the new Web log platforms and the ease with which it allowed us to share our thoughts.

We also put our money where our collective mouth was by funding several start-ups involved in this technology. Despite genuine reason for excitement, however, this nascent industry finds itself stuck on, well, itself.

Not long ago, I attended yet another social-networking panel. This time it was an event sponsored by Silicon Valley's Churchill Club on the subject of "Blogging and Social Networking: Who Cares?" The panel was a cast of thousands, including such social-software panel mainstays as Ross Mayfield, Marc Canter and Dan Gillmor.

Unfortunately, I have seen enough of these panels to conclude with certainty that they are all the same.

This nascent industry finds itself stuck on, well, itself.
To save you the time (and aggravation), the following transcription of the evening's event condenses the essential content of any past and future social-software panels. Read it, and you'll get a sense of what these events inevitably turn into:

"Welcome blah blah blah relationship capital blah blah blah social contracts blah blah blah media businesses blah blah blah identify the rabid fans of the iPod blah blah blah utility media blah blah blah this is the future of the Web blah blah blah RSS blah blah blah spam blah blah blah killer app blah blah blah business model blah blah blah advertising model blah blah blah Is this a product or a feature? blah blah blah A feature doesn't make a business blah blah blah leveraging relationships blah blah blah decentralized system blah blah blah privacy concerns blah blah blah profiling people blah blah blah.

"Social networking is blogging dumbed down for the masses blah blah blah tribecaster blah blah blah widget blah blah blah What is the connection between social networks and blogs? blah blah blah the most efficient media platform ever blah blah blah read-write, not read-only blah blah blah All software is about people blah blah blah put this stuff in context blah blah blah monetizing relationships blah blah blah a new dimension to the Web blah blah blah I met my wife on blah blah blah.

"Network diversity is good blah blah blah reputation management blah blah blah open standards and open platforms win always blah blah blah it's group voice blah blah blah social context blah blah blah The entire Web is a social network blah blah blah Join me in thanking tonight's moderators blah blah blah Goodnight."

And so on and so forth.

Too tough? You should see the e-mails I've received since posting that outtake on my blog. I've been roundly portrayed as social software's No. 1 skeptic.

Perhaps the post is a tad snide, though I did not intend it to come across as an attack on the concept of social software. Broadly speaking, social software is just software that facilitates the communications among people, which is a hard thing to get down on.

We've all benefited from the likes of Evite and eGroups (now Yahoo Groups), which were early social-software success stories. The new generation of social software is just building upon our years of learning from collective interaction on the Web. I remain a big believer in the power of social software and am confident that it will play a meaningful role in how we all interact with one another from here on out.

Without exaggeration, I think that blogging software is revolutionizing the way people communicate--whether to share pictures with family members or distribute a product spec to an engineering team. And I think that RSS (Really Simple Syndication) will enable one-to-one communication of content, pricing, trends, etc., in such a simple fashion that all information will ultimately have an associated data feed.

Over the last 12 months, we have all done about as much talking as we have building.
What's more, I believe that our social networks will one day be superimposed on top of practically all our online interactions (search, recruiting, dating, fundraising) to help tailor them to our specific experiences, interests and associates.

I do not believe that any more public flogging of these ideas is going to help move that technology forward.

The power of a start-up is its ability to move deftly, react to feedback and build new technology quickly while the incumbent giants are sleeping. But all that talking tends to wake the giants. And the first thing that they do is listen. Worse yet, after listening, they start building while we're all still talking.

We're at the very beginning of the evolution of social software. In the coming years, we are all going to learn well more than we already know about how people interact with this technology and vice versa. And for the time being, start-ups still have the upper hand.

Social software, as a general matter, is a good idea. But in the particular instances we've seen to date, there are a lot of things that make little sense, provide little value and will not sustain the interest of the users.

Yet over the last 12 months, we have all done about as much talking as we have building. It is time to call a moratorium on the "blah blah blah" and get down to the business of building great software. To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, there'll be time enough for talkin' when the building's done.