As each new technology pops up that promises to help me connect more efficiently with my friends, I have begun to wonder what I’m really seeking with each new product. Am I aiming to streamline my communication processes as much as possible so that I can increase the number of people I’m having it with? Am I’m simply an early adopter that wants to check out the newest shiny object?

Most likely all of these things apply to me, but what I’ve begun to notice is that I am really using all of these tools for the purpose of social discovery. Social discovery is simply one method of finding content in this limitless sea of content we call “the internet”. It is increasingly my preferred discovery method as I have found a vast network of individuals that share similar interests.

To understand social discovery I think it is more important to understand the activities that we are engaged in when using the internet. Ultimately, all internet usage is simply the transmission of media. Occasionally we transmit other information used for purchasing physical good but the discovery of those products and services involve the transmission of media.

New Media Lifecycle

New Media Lifecycle ImageOver the past few years I have become increasingly active in all phases of what I now define the “new media lifecycle”. All of these “tools” that new technology companies are creating are for the most part trying to make at least one phase of this cycle more efficient. I define the new media lifecycle as the stages through which new media typically flows. Not very complex!

To expect new media to flow in any continuous direction is ludicrous but I have found there to be three stages that new media flows through. I think determining a starting point of new media is the same as determining what came first, the chicken or the egg. As such, you could enter the new media life cycle at any point during one of the following three phases:

  1. Content Creation – Audio, video, text and images are all types of content that is produced in new media. In contrast to days of old, media can now be produced by anybody, not just the large media companies.
  2. Content Discovery – Discovery is probably the most important phase of the lifecycle for technology companies as they are the ones developing the tools for discovery.
  3. Content Consumption – Content can be consumer in practically an infinite number of ways. The consumer is the one that chooses the medium they prefer. It can be mobile phones, computers, televisions, stereos or a number of other mediums.

One other important thing to note is that there is no requirement to be part of the content creation phase as a consumer. Soon enough content creation will be an activity that practically every consumer engages in whether they like it or not. Their activities will automatically dictate the creation of content. For now though, it is still possible to simply watch what is going on.

Social Discovery

I think social discovery is one of the most fascinating parts of the new media lifecycle because we are so early in determining the most efficient way of social discovery. Search has now been dominated by Google and while new companies attempt to attack what is increasingly becoming a monopoly, most companies have realized that the space of social discovery has yet to declare a winner.

What is social discovery exactly? Well social discovery is the usage of social tools to find relevant content. A social tool is a system which enables the sharing of content with other users. That content can be as simple as the activities users are engaged in such as “Nick just played MouseHunt on Facebook” to the modification of my social profile to the sharing of a video, image or song that I thought was good.

Some have suggested that the current battle on the social web is over the most efficient newsfeed. I think it should be framed instead as the battle over making the most efficient social discovery tool. Feeds are simply one way of displaying content. It may very well be that feeds are the most effective way of displaying that content but I think this is still up for debate.

Over the past few weeks as my digital social activity has become stretched across FriendFeed, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook and other places, I have begun to ask myself where the real value is in any of these things. The reality is that a valuable community that I feel connected to is most important. As we strive to build new technologies that help us connect more efficiently I think in the end all that matters is the community.

Email continues to be an extremely basic form of communication but what makes it so powerful is that I can access anybody via email. Even though it helps, it doesn’t really matter if your technology is the most efficient. What matters more is that your technology has a community backing it. As the early adopters chase after the latest shiny social object trying to dissect the pros and cons of each feature, I’d wait to see where the real communities form.

In my own opinion, while social discovery has yet to be monetized effectively, social discovery currently provides the greatest opportunity for breakthrough growth.