Of Manterest and Monopolies

We’ve talked a lot in class about the complete dominance that women seem to have over Pinterest, and remembering back to Meg’s presentation, she had the numbers to back it up.  My fiancé has gone crazy for it, and she’s never even gotten the hang of Facebook!  Now that’s saying something for a social media site.  But men haven’t really picked it up.  I know a guy who recently joined Pinterest and told all of his friends that they should join too.  They made fun of him until he cancelled his account.  These people are in their 30’s.

This week however, I stumbled across a site that is basically Pinterest for men.  A “Manterest” if you will.  It’s called Gentlemint (a mint of manly things) and it was apparently named “…one of the more manly websites on the planet” by the American Moustache Institute.  And the American Moustache Institute doesn’t just throw praise like that around willy nilly.  As far as I know…

I’ve had a quick look around, and though I’ve been impressed by some of the subject matter (The ultimate bacon burger?  Nice.  Classic James Bond novel cover art?  Now that’s manly.) it basically is just Pinterest with different stuff.  Manly stuff.  So if Pinterest were to catch on with men, there’s really no reason for this site to exist, and yet it’s gaining a bit of traction in our fractured social media landscape.

This all brings me full circle to how I felt about social media on a macro level at the beginning of class, and that’s the theory of natural monopolies.  A natural monopoly is a situation where due to the monumental scope, standardization, or connectedness required of a certain task, it just makes natural sense that one company or organization should do it.  An example is utilities.  You couldn’t have each neighborhood with their own gas company because the networks of pipes and transportation channels wouldn’t connect to each other, the companies would argue over turf, and everything would be infinitely less efficient than if you just let NSTAR do the whole thing.

Earlier in the evolution of the internet and social media, this seemed to be the natural trend.  First we had AOL’s homepage that tried to be all things to all people, and be the one internet portal.  And that worked for a few years, before we realized the possibilities of the internet and we all outgrew it.  Then there was a series of monopolies in social media, that one by one replaced each other, unable to coexist.  First was Friendster, which was toppled by MySpace, which was then obliterated by Facebook, all because the network effect was so strong that there was only room for one giant at a time.  Natural monopolies.

Now however, as we’ve seen in this class, there are all kinds of social media sites popping up to service all kinds of interests.  We have sites for micro-blogging, sites for shopping, sites for getting deals and even paying for things in-store.  There are sites for video, audio, and all kinds of other content discovery.  I had started to doubt whether the natural monopoly theory could continue with all of these disparate social media platforms popping up, but when I found out that there was a Pinterest for both men and women, I knew things had gotten out of hand.  Jason mentioned on Twitter that he felt that there might be a bubble about to burst when it comes to Social Media, which I thought was a good observation.  But instead, I think that what we’re ready for is the new natural monopoly.  That new web portal that sucks us all into one space through which we access everything else we need on the web (or our phones).  And it may sound boring, but the best guess as to who can do that is Facebook.

Facebook has already integrated photos and videos into their platform pretty well.  They’ve integrated some of Twitter’s value proposition, and remained innovative in their own right with updates like timeline.  Now they’ve purchased Instagram.  I’ve even read articles that claim Facebook is working on their own web payment system (which I assume would include mobile capability if they know what’s good for them.  And they do.)  Sure, there are plenty of other social innovators out there, but the fact is when you are as big as Facebook every other company is just your crowdsource, because as soon as their ideas ripen, you can probably just buy them out.

I actually think that if Facebook really is thinking along these lines, it will be a good thing for consumers.  It will allow a much wider audience (not just us savvy MI621-ers) to take advantage of sophisticated social media capability.  And yes, maybe they would be like the Borg, going from site to site and assimilating them into the collective, each one losing a bit of what made it unique (nerd alert) but if anything is for sure here, it’s that even Facebook won’t last forever.  Just like AOL, just like Friendster, MySpace, and whatever else, we’ll eventually outgrow Facebook and the new innovators will blow it up with the next big thing.  I think Facebook has more staying power than those sites previously mentioned, probably because it learned from their mistakes, but it has the potential to add a lot more to the social media experience before it fades away.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Of Manterest and Monopolies

  1. Nice borg comparison. I’ll be interested to see whether/ how a monopoly develops in the social media space. On one hand, I think it’s likely, as there is actually an advantage to everyone being on one standard (much in the same way is was actually beneficial for companies to be standardized on a MS Windows/office platform). On the other hand, the barriers of entry are so low for social media startups, its hard to imagine a constant cropping up of new sites. Certainly, natural ones like Instagram (and Pinterest) will likely be acquired by the big 4. But it also leaves open the “big 4” missing the next big thing and allowing it to creep up on all of us and make it a big 5.

  2. megfrazier

    Throughout this class, I have also been thinking about the idea of monopolies in the social media industry. Think people have tweeted articles that allude to the idea that Facebook is becoming generic in a sense. In my mind the more that site takes on, the more it is just “the internet”.

    As I write this, I realized that if you were to ask me the social media sites I use most frequently, I would say (without hesitation) 1. Twitter 2. Pinterest 3. Instagram. I go to Facebook more frequently that I play with Instragram, but it wouldn’t have been on my list. Just thinking out loud.

    I wish I could reign this thought back in, but I’ve kind of lost it at this point.

    (I registered to be a first user of gentlemint earlier this year to see if there was anything different besides fewer pins related to wedding decor. I wanted to see if Pinterest had created a new category of social media, one based on visuals.)

  3. The number of social media and related services (think of all the aggregators!) really is becoming staggering. Even if only a few are becoming really big hits, there is definitely a lot of experimentation going on. Being a somewhat late adopter of social networks myself (at least the newer, technology enabled ones) I fully agree with your observation on the network effects and the fact that they have tended to create natural monopolies. It’ll be hard to spot the “eventual decline” of any of the major social networks that exist today, but maybe that’s what Mark Zuckerberg just did when he acted unilaterally to acquire Instagram. That having been said, it’s also surprising that Facebook has stated that Instagram will remain independently operated. Like you, I would WANT them to work as hard as they can to integrate the function into Facebook and make it as good a single service as possible.

  4. Great blog post. If going in the direction of natural monopoly has only led to the demise of earlier natural monopolies on the internet and in the social media spaces — it seems that Facebook either has to a) resist the temptation to fully take over (leave Instagram operating independently) or b) convince itself it has cracked the code and it is the exception (make sure it buys Instagram, yet let it operate independently). I think the true predictors may lie in dynamics beyond the functional benefits of a natural monopoly. Will we trust and tolerate a natural monopoly? Sociology, civil wars, cultural diversities say no. “Too big to fail” seems to necessarily include an operational element that unfairly disempowers an inevitable natural force from the population – seeking to limit over-representation or misrepresentation (lobbyists, campaign finance and increased interchange between politicians/executives could be this element in the corporate context). I personally think Facebook has a lot of feedback from us to NOT try and become the natural monopoly and if there’s any reason it WILL falter its because Facebook will allow using our data to serve us become truly secondary to using our data to serve Facebook.

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