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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Identification, please.

This is the part of the story where *tools* like Hulu, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, et al. need to define what they’re ultimately about lest they fall by the Bebo wayside. Is Facebook Bebo? Not likely. But it’s the challenge start-ups eventually face: Going from merely being a tool that does something the other guys don’t, to being about the building of something *bigger*. As it is with anything, isn’t it ultimately about what gets built being more important than the tools used to build it?

Features on a site are nice, but what are you really about?

Vimeo seems to answer this by focusing on high-quality content and deeply personal stories. I was reminded of that *mission* after coming across a tight little series yesterday on the failed California dream. (Shot gorgeously, shorts like Borderland and Cannonball are worth checking out no matter which way you roll socially or politically.)

In the bigger scheme though, it got me thinking about how the identity of a community matters more than the sheer size of it, yet nobody learns. This came up after I saw more grumblings about Facebook and how some people are getting turned off by it. Insane growth aside, I look at what people who love it say: it’s great for keeping in touch with friends from college. (Or high school.) Whichever, the point is that there’s a purpose there, a mission statement in effect that seems to have been lost amidst the net’s recent privacy policy comm chatter.

They need to move beyond that and get back to that essence of staying in touch. (Twitter isn’t about what you had for lunch, it’s about the need to express yourself.) Is Facebook about the ability to play Farmville? Really? By focusing on the privacy debate, Facebook is getting away from itself.

As for TV Land, Hulu is still trying to figure themselves out. Pay models slash Netflix killer. Incomplete seasons. Barely any original content. What are they about? In the bigger picture, YouTube represents the expression of everyday people. Hulu from what I can tell, is nothing more than a glorified rerun channel that YouTube can’t touch in terms of access to TV shows people watch. (YouTube’s biggest Achilles’ Heel though: copyrighted material. When’s the last time you saw a takedown notice on Hulu.)

As I was writing this, the idea of media hybrid Current TV came to mind. I came across this piece that also speaks to much of what we saw having pitched them last year. We got to peek behind the curtain as it were, and Jordan Kretchmer shared with us on AdVerve many of the challenges they face.

They have their own cable channel and online community (with content probably as focused as Vimeo’s), yet can’t seem to reconcile their media identity crisis to evolve into something bigger. Al’s problems aside, you have to ask how does an online community with a TV presence not do better? Look at the reverse situation and how *traditional* TV media like CNN is migrating its coverage more online to feed the growing iWant my iNews yesterday craving people seem to have.

This pros/cons checklist for sites can go on ad nauseum, as each channel has their own challenges, but I’d rather focus more on the overall car, not the number of cupholders it has. It just seems like everyday though someone announces the next Foursquare and people go insane without remembering the last Second Life.

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