What McLuhan didn’t see coming
Conversation. Bi-directional communication. All the time. Synchronous. Asynchronous. In text, video, image, sound. Not surprising. After all, he came of age in the age of mass media or, more precisely, mass one-to-many media. Newspapers, radio, television, film, magazines. The idea embodied in early call-in talk shows, that the audience could create content, just wasn’t current in the 1960’s. Partly, of course, because the audience didn’t have the means to create content.

Today, I’m sitting at a $1,000 laptop that is equipped to edit and produce HD movies with fancy transitions, stereo soundtracks, as well as a sequencer for music and DVD creation software and a (non-HD, alas) burner. I’ve rented over 20 GB of storage and several dozen GB of bandwidth in a data center in LA for a few bucks a month. If new media is an arms race, millions of people are ready to go toe-to-toe with the networks, Hollywood and local TV stations.

Not the long tail, again!
Actually, I’m still trying to figure out the difference between the wisdom of crowds and the stupidity of mobs. No, this is the global cyberspace village, where we’re all – at least those of us lucky enough to live in the wealthy countries – just a hyperlink away.

Throw your elbow over the virtual back fence and have a conversation with hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of people. Unmediated by media elites, economic or cultural. Not that they won’t try, but screw ’em.

Interactivity is the killer app of today’s new media. Not just interacting with a cute time-sucking flash game. Interacting with people. Including ourselves – which is what we do when we wander the byways of the internet.

OK, can we get back to something important, like storage? Infrastructure?
Sure. Let’s summarize the changes for storage:

  • Self-publishing, whether it is point-to-point, point-to-many, many-to-point or many-to-many, is just getting started. In a decade it will be 100x what it is now.
  • The mass of data this represents will likewise be huge, on the order of 1000x what “social media” store now. Think about that: YouTube, dating sites, personal email accounts, instant-messaging, personal websites, blogs, 1000x more stored content than there is today, partly because multi-media file sizes are so much bigger and partly because more people will be doing it.
  • While the content is exploding, the number of people accessing the content won’t: if about 10% of the world uses the internet today, the maximum audience boost is 10x. An optimistic scenario is that in 10 years 50% of the world’s population is on the net and all of us average two hours a day, that is also a 10x increase in audience hours. So at best social media data will get 100x cooler. Maybe more.

That’s the looming issue for social media: massive amounts of much cooler data. How are they going to store it? Not on big iron arrays.

Does bandwidth drive success?
Silicon Valley guy William Jolitz wrote that high bandwidth consumption is key to social media success while driving off potential competitors.

Yet my calculations suggest something very different. Bandwidth is simply storage in motion. Yet with data continuing to cool as fast as it has, storage has to grow much faster than bandwidth. How much faster depends partly on how fast average bandwidth to your box increases. Given all the telco whining about the cost of network upgrades we may only be looking at a 10x increase in the average user’s bandwidth over the next decade. So storage capacity will grow 100x faster than bandwidth.

Storage is the choke point
Sure, there will always be social media content that drives a lot of bandwidth because it is popular. That will also be a tiny fraction of the storage. The huge majority of the content will be accessed less and less over time, yet having the biggest store of content will be the most valuable position because of the ways you can leverage that content to connect users with each other. That social thing.

The StorageMojo take
So the inescapable conclusion is that the successful social media infrastructure will be the one with the lowest cost of scalable storage. If someone beats you on that, they’ll have a cost advantage that they can eat you up with either by lower ad prices, more services, or a combination of both. I can’t believe this is all going to be roll-your-own storage. Someone is going to build a big business out of social media storage.

My question is: who?

Comments welcome and take a hard look at my assumptions. Human beings are very bad at reasoning out the consequences of exponential functions and I have more than one in here. Even I was surprised. Moderation on to keep from overwhelming me and you with Viagra and porn site “comments”.