Watching The Social Network on DVD the other night, my first experience of the award-winning portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to fame and financial success at the head of Facebook, I knew once it had finished that I wanted to watch it again. Probably another ten times after that.
It wasn’t the glamour of success, the money, the vapid groupies, the slick, suited yes-men, that drew me into the film. It was watching him code. The first hour of that film was, in my opinion, by far the most satisfying. I wasn’t anywhere near as interested in the people surrounding Zuckerberg as the little tech-wizard himself. Misogynist, traitor, socially inept, self-centred – call him what you will, but ultimately the fact he created one of the most impressively addictive and comprehensive online experiences in his early twenties, becoming a billionaire in the process, demands respect.
His motivations for building the first version came from a dark, spiteful, sexist place. This can’t be denied – the blog he writes in the film is taken, word for word, from Zuckerberg’s own LiveJournal. But I couldn’t help but marvel at how fast he put the site together, how quickly other people cottoned on to what he was doing. Such an impressive mind, and one that locked onto an idea so firmly that it was impossible to even gain his attention until he needed cash for a server, immediately securing ownership of his site beyond the average hosting deal.
It made me think about the possibilities of sites that immediately start to generate a huge community. Of course, they’re all built on the same fundamental idea – people are nosy. We all want to know where you were, who you were with, and most importantly, what you thought about that particular event, even as we throw our own judgements around our subconscious. The ability to explore someone else’s life, someone who’s ever-so-slightly different to you, is so addictive to most internet users, most people in fact, that we had no hope of resisting Facebook.
But how do you build a website based around this idea? How do you find the one niche that will hit the sweet spot in hundreds of millions of people, like Facebook, or Twitter? There’s no more avenues for social media sites, not any more. Facebook and Twitter have the market sewn up, and the few variations on their ever-popular theme have already been designed and launched.
Sites that can engender conventions are always worth a go – Penny Arcade proved that if enough people form a community around your site, and the industry you commentate on respects your judgement, to some degree, getting them to put a ton of booths up at a huge venue and selling tickets is going to make a lot of money, regardless of whether the money goes into the bank accounts of the owners, the company, or a charity.
Have any of you ever tried to build up a website that makes money solely through the traffic generated by a loyal and ever-expanding community of users? You’ll need some real USPs to get it going, and it’s not going to be easy. In fact, at first, it’s going to be a nightmare to get someone to sign up unless they knew you prior to the site’s inception, and even that’s a chore, sometimes. But keep slogging away. You’d be surprised at how many people have seen major financial success via the web simply by never giving up. Now, either watch The Social Network to inspire yourself, or don’t, and then go be one of those people. I wish you the very best of luck.