What Do Social Media and Paperclips Have in Common? A Lot More Than You Think…

December 5, 2006 by Lisa Oshima | Social Media

The most genius and useful solutions are often born from simple ideas. Take, for example, basic office tools – paperclips, Scotch tape/ Sellotape, Whiteout/ Tip-Ex, Post-it notes, etc.  It’s hard to imagine life without them. Why am I talking about office supplies in a blog about social media?  The two have more in common than you might think…

Just as the invention of simple office tools revolutionized personal administration, simple, yet innovative, on-line social media tools are (and will continue) transforming the way people live and work… MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Dodgeball, etc. are all good examples of sites that are changing the way people interact.  Plenty of other social media and web 2.0 services that you haven’t heard of yet, will do the same, when they reach critical mass.

This is an exciting time.  The world is abuzz with the potential of social media and people everywhere are generating ideas about how it can be leveraged in new ways.  Something similar happened when the Post-it Note was launched 26 years ago.  The original Post-it (a little yellow piece of paper with a sticky edge) spawned thousands of other useful products – large Post-its, colored Post-its, lined Post-its, “sign-me” plastic sticky flags, sticky book flags, removable tape, etc. – the list goes on and on.  An entire industry was born from one, simple idea.

When is the last time you thought about, White-Out/ Tipex?  I’m the first to admit that I use it regularly but don’t think about it until I need it and find that it’s run (or dried) out. Once a product reaches ubiquity, users begin to take it for granted. Don’t believe me? Replace the Whiteout example with TV or Internet connectivity.   How many times do you really think about how much TV you watch until the cable or satellite signal goes down?  How often do you think about your Internet Service Provider until your ISP experiences a blackout?

If you want a real eye-opener about how many ever-day necessities you take for granted, flip through a copy of:

Inventing the 20th Century: 100 Inventions That Shaped the World: 100 Inventions That Shaped the Wor
Stephen Van Dulken

Think about how many of the inventions of the last century you use regularly.  Then, ask yourself, “How many of those well used inventions do I regularly marvel over? How many of these inventions truly fascinate me?”  My guess is – not many.  The fact is that most people don’t bother to think about things that have already been invented.  Instead, they incorporate the use of those inventions into their daily lives and keep using them until something better comes along.

Social Media is that “something better,” and it’s coming along quickly. It is changing everything: the way we learn, the way we work, the way we socialize, the way marketers push products, the way the world communicates.  By many accounts on-line social media and social networking are the “next big thing” – “the wave of the future.”  Right now, there is still a lot on-line rubbish to sift through, and the web – including social media- is, like the early days of the Post-it note and the original dot com boom, still spawning more ideas than the market can sustain.

The dot-com bubble is well and truly back with web 2.0 and social media.  In San Francisco and Silicon Valley, in particular, start-ups are cropping up all over the place.  Corporations and VC see the potential and are, once again, spending big money to acquire the IP and people that they feel have the most potential.  Similarly, start-up beauty pageants are in full swing, and promo parties abound – the likes of which haven’t been seen since the last bubble… To check out the latest and greatest industry parties (and the resulting juicy gossip), check out bub.blicio.us.

Getting back to my original analogy, in my opinion, the social media ideas with the most potential are a lot like the paperclip, Scotch Tape, Whiteout and Post-it Notes.  They’re simple concepts with elegant, user-friendly designs – the kind of “wow” ideas you wish you’d though of yourself.

TEASER: Tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing one such web 2.0 and social media tool… An incredibly simple concept that I feel has the potential to revolutionize social media and the way the world interacts with and on the web. Stay tuned… I think you’ll like it.


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