You know it’s a bubble when . . .

. . . starry-eyed entrepreneurs are building a social network for bald guys. From today’s Craig’s List:

The site in development concerns a Hair Loss Community. Not a community only dedicated to solving hair loss, but a full online community dedicated to the entire hair loss lifestyle. This is a full scale social networking website. We expect it to become a top 100 site.

“Hair loss lifestyle”? You know a business idea is seriously dumb, like walking into buildings dumb, when the folks running the business use terms like “hair loss lifestyle” with a straight face. In case you haven’t noticed the hair loss lifestyle, then you should brush all that superfluous hair from in front of your eyes, Shaggy, and get with the in crowd. There’s so much demand for the hair loss lifestyle that this brainy idea is expected to become a top 100 site.

So say it ten times with a straight face: Hair-Loss Lifestyle Full-Scale Online Community.” Some rich dude financed this?

Lest you think “seriously dumb” is just fun and games, I just blogged about the social networking business model and there are some serious takeaways from the “hair loss lifestyle full-scale online community.” And no bald jokes. Promise. (Bald social networking jokes, yeah, but no bald jokes). Serious stuff after the break . . .

Here’s what the “hair loss lifestyle full-scale online community” (how ’bout we call it “PateBook” or “MyCranium”) will look like:

Business (how to overcome a bald head in job interview)
Fashion (How to dress for success)
Style (Hair Styles to overcome thinning hair, etc.)
Health (Be healthy and have healthy hair)
Fitness (If you’re bald, you’d better have a great body!)
Travel (Wear hair? Better pack for your vacation right.)
Entertainment (You think of one.)
Hair Loss Solutions & News (Be an expert on the topic).

These channels are all related to hair loss and Business. Hair loss and Fashion. Etc.

Seriously. I’m not making this stuff up. (I’ll admit, the fashion and hair loss solutions are actually pretty good topics. But Travel? Entertainment? Rock bands for receding hair? Male-pattern time shares?)

And, just in case you’d like to sign on with the team, there’s this disqualifier:

Please do not ask me for examples of how you can link the topic of hair loss to your channel topic. If you don’t know, you are not the right person for the position.

Okay, I don’t know about you, but I think they just disqualified the whole human race, at least where “Travel” and “Entertainment” are concerned. Hell, even they had to say “Think of something” in their entertainment category.

Seriously. I’m not making fun of bald. As a guy in my late 40′s with almost all of my hair, I know you don’t play with fate. Make fun of a receding hair line, wake up tomorrow with a shower drain full of your hair. As E.A. Robinson wrote, “For those that with a god have striven/Take what the god has given.” And they don’t make fun, either.

But the strategic takeaways are glaringly evident. I have dealt with a dozen businesses — about ten of which were startups — that had social networking as a major component of their business model either as the sole “product” or to support distribution of their central product lines. As far as social networking is concerned, I’ve seen enough foul balls and strikeouts to know a good pitch from a bad. And, yes, as is obvious to you and everyone else, PateBook is a seriously bad idea for a social networking site.

Why? These guys are sincere, serious, and ambitious. Why not? You can start with all the big issues surrounding social networks, like the piddly revenues per user, the serious shakeout now going on in the business, and how venture capitalists and lenders are substantially more careful with their resources and are seriously lowering their valuations of potential start-ups. But let’s not go into all that. No, that’s systemic, not specific. Beta, not alpha. A problem with any social networking project.

You know the problem, you just can’t find a word for it. Here’s a candidate: “organic.” The reason the bald guys social network seems forced or strained is that it’s entirely inorganic, entirely made up without a real world correlate. Everything online is a “substitute” for some organic or real thing. Web sites are substitutes for people, and social networks are substitutes for real-live communities.

The most successful social networking models have strong real-world correlates, that is, there is a strong “organic” component to the network. Ignore the real big doods, like MySpace and Twitter, for a second because they are a one-size-fits-all type of online community. Let’s find something similar to the MyCranium being proposed here and it’s real-world or organic correlates.

Take, for instance, Ravelry.com, a highly successful knitting online community. Now, the revenue models are problematic, but Ravelry.com is doing exactly the same thing that MyCranium wants to do in term of attracting a community. Long before the Internet, knitters had a strong communities and social hubs. It didn’t take Web 2.0 for knitting communities to organically form, create social models of interaction, terms and rules of interaction, productivity heuristics, group behavior heuristics, and a sense of “place” in social interactions. Knitting stores, classes, living room teas — there was a well-formed, organic community in place with definable social practices, such as showing off newly-acquired yarn.

All Ravelry.com had to do was create many of the same online forms that the organic community had created, including the ability to document and show off yarns and projects.

The same can be said of fan communities, music communities, even professional communities.

Once you start creating online communities that do not have “organic” correlates, you’re trying to create what I call “inorganic” communities. When you have a strong “organic” community in place, you have “organic” correlates for that community. For instance, in a knitting community, you have correlates for sharing yarn and displaying partially-completed and completed projects. Reproduce those organic correlates in the online community and you have what I call “community multipliers.”

When you try to create an inorganic community, then you lack organic correlates. You have to, as it were, make it up. But think about this for a while. What person with hair loss primarily thinks of himself as bald? Are there “bald” places to travel? “Bald” places to eat? “Bald” music (head hop, maybe)? “Bald” movies? “Bald” fashions? “Bald” stores? “Bald” martinis? There are, in fact, no organic correlates because there isn’t, in fact, a bald community. A bald guy is first and foremost an ethnicity, a set of tastes, a fashion sense, a profession, etc. Those are the communities he belongs to; bald is not who he is in terms of relationships to other communities. So he has no “bald” organic community structures. He has “ethnic” organic community structures, “professional” organic community structures, “alumni” organic community structures, and so forth.

You can’t create a community where there isn’t one because there are no correlates. This is why the “channels” PateBook outlines above are so ludicrous.

This is a very, very valuable insight. When approaching any social networking idea, it’s not just about numbers (one in ten guys are bald, there are 120 million guys in the US, that’s a potential audience of 12 million, that means we’ll be in the top 100). It’s about reproducing an “organic” community in an “inorganic” setting. Every time I’ve been involved in social networking consulting, I start with the organic correlates. When those correlates are weak to non-existent, you can’t invent your way to a successful Web site.

It’s just hair tonic that sells lots of promise at a very high price.

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4 Responses to “You know it’s a bubble when . . .”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] gotten about a dozen emails about my last post on social networking (doesn’t anyone use the comments?), so I thought I’d elaborate more on what I mean by [...]

  2. [...] bald jokes, which I avoid out of superstition (there but for the grace of God go I), why do people keep coming up with this stuff? And how do they come up with names like “hair transplant community” or “hair [...]

  3. [...] All the data suggests that the advertising money generated per user in social networking is paltry — no, less than paltry. And MySpace is a classic example of the proverb, “The second mouse gets the cheese.” Just three years ago, MySpace looked like the eternal, uncontested giant on the social networking scene. But the second mice — like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — figured out what was wrong with MySpace and fixed the problems. MySpace got the first wave (mainly kids and club-hoppers) and the rest (adults) went to the second mice. And none of them — I repeat, none of them — have figured out how to make any kind of money off the social networking deal. Which is why I’m so hard on silly little business ideas like “Hair-Loss Lifestyle Full-Scale Online Community.” [...]

  4. [...] Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, Twitter, and practically everyone else on the planet, including even the online hair-loss lifestyle communities. It may not be Web 5.0, but it’s a pretty ambitious target on the moon to aim [...]


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