The Liquidity of Ideas

I was asked today about the future of social media. Though I am not qualified to answer this question, there are two observations that I’d like to share.

Space is a commodity

Publishers routinely tell me that they want Branch to replace their comments section. Thing is, they insist that the conversations take place on their site. But this doesn’t make any sense. Space is a commodity these days. Why would anybody want to do that? In prior times, it was hard(er) to publish your thoughts online – to a targeted audience, no less – so comment sections held an understandable allure. These days, the Web is a different place. Simply giving me convenient space to publish my thoughts isn’t a compelling value proposition anymore.

Today, audience matters (and you could argue that it always has). I publish on Twitter because of my Followers. I publish on Facebook because of my Friends. I publish on Hacker News because of the community. I am publishing here – instead of on my own blog – because Evan Williams, Scott Heiferman, Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, Anil Dash, and David Galbraith are here too.

Whatever comes next will offer a compelling, differentiated audience.

Ideas are illiquid

According to Ev, every great Internet thing is a marketplace. Central to marketplaces is the pursuit of liquidity.

Liquidity is the reasonable expectation of selling something you list or finding what you’re looking for (source).

Despite the diversity of spaces and mediums available to us, I would argue that ideas are still, for the most part, illiquid (online).

While interning for Senator Feinstein, in Washington D.C., I read Politico religiously. But I found myself without a medium to express my thoughts about what I read. The comment sections were chaotic, Facebook is for party photos, I didn’t have Twitter (even today, my Followers care about tech), Forums are archaic, and email is a todo list.

There are many spaces to share ideas online but very few to exchange them. Sure, I can tweet and receive @replies. Or post on Facebook and accumulate comments. But are those audiences really my intended buyers? Are those the right marketplaces for what I am trying to sell?

A lot of times, yes – which is why those platforms are so massive. But not always. And there is a huge opportunity for services that fill the remaining gaps.

The Future

This is why I am excited about Branch and Medium. Via branches and collections, both products empower new audiences and the exchange of ideas amongst them. Connecting the right buyers and sellers will be tough, but these illiquid ideas will end up being sold somewhere.