The World Wide Hamster Wheel

It’s hard to believe that Web 2.0, aka user-generated online content, is barely more than a decade old. That’s right, WordPress launched in 2003. Facebook showed up soon thereafter. I started blogging in 2007; the blogosphere wasn’t even a thing yet.

And yet, here we are, more than a billion people creating gazillions of videos, blog posts, status updates, and Tweets in a never-ending search for clicks and followers. And what’s it all for? I mean seriously, what’s the endgame here?

Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it. Of course you have, at least if you’re into that sort of thing. You dream about it, practically salivate over it. The endgame is fame and fortune. Maybe not Lady Gaga or Tony Robbins fame and fortune. After all, you’re not delusional.

But you’ve got to expect or at least hope to reach some sort of tipping point where real clients, speaking opportunities, ad revenue, whatever it is you’re into actually starts to take off and make all that online social effort worthwhile. If not, why bother?

Don’t tell me you’re just killing time. The thought of a billion people wasting hours a day is too depressing to think about.

Assuming you’re into social networks or blogging for some practical reason, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Not that I enjoy that sort of thing, mind you. That’s not why I got into this business. I actually do it to help people.

That said, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that telling folks what they want to hear doesn’t do them a bit of good. On the contrary, the sooner you understand what’s really going on the better. So here it is, the unadulterated truth about how the online social universe works.

The way people like me evaluate markets is by looking at what we call the value or food chain. Now, this may sound a bit cannibalistic, but what can I say, it is what it is. There’s simply no way to sugarcoat it. The food chain for user-generated content is this: users consume themselves.

That’s right folks. Users are both voracious generators and consumers of all that free content. Everyone just clicks on each other’s posts and follows each other round and round the social media wheel while Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook rake in billions in ad revenue.

Web 2.0 is a misnomer. It’s not a web at all. It’s a wheel. A hamster wheel. An enormous, Worldwide Hamster Wheel. I call it the WHW. And all the users are running around and around the wheel chasing their own tails.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking. It’s no wheel. It’s a network. You’re building your network, your platform for your personal brand.

To the extent that Shakespeare was right when he wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” maybe so. But beyond that, sorry to say there’s simply no there there.

If you think you’re a real player, then I’m afraid you’ve been played. All the real customers play with real money in the real world. Granted, you can be a real player in the virtual world but only if you’ve got real game in the real world. And by real game, I mean real talent, expertise, a differentiated value proposition customers will pay for.

If you’ve got that kind of game, great. Then I’m sure you’re doing fine. And when you get big enough you can outsource all that social stuff on the cheap, am I right? I mean, isn’t that what The 4-Hour Workweek was supposed to be all about?

No, of course I don’t read that sort of nonsense. Give me some credit, will you?

Speaking of which, I’m not being entirely up-front here. There actually are a few categories that have a chance of making out on the WHW: business and leadership fads, pseudoscience, lifestyle fads, miracle diets and cures, inspirational fluff, political fodder, mindless entertainment, gaming, and of course, sex.

I mean, there are always plenty of suckers to click away on all the fads and other assorted nonsense. But if you’re going to try your hand at any of that stuff, here are two things to keep in mind:

First, remember that you have to live with yourself. Karma can be a real pain and you don’t want to wake up one day and realize you’ve spent your entire life selling everyone a bill of goods, including yourself.

Second, you’ll be competing with probably half the planet. Not great odds, especially if you’ve got no real expertise, talent or differentiated value proposition. After all, highly competitive global markets are brutally unforgiving for undifferentiated commodities.

Make no mistake, the online world is not some business panacea but a cannibalistic food chain where users generate and consume free content and nobody makes a dime. You’d almost be better off playing the lottery.