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Facebook and the tale of two media models

Old media covets Facebook's IPO billions, while new social media envies the old's content, writes Michael Wolff in the Guardian.

What is social media – I mean, as opposed to plain old media?

That's the unexamined question that will only become more pressing – and less clear – when Facebook shortly completes its IPO, with more and more people in plain old media feeling they ought to be in social media. And with more and more people in social media, with a $100bn or so of new liquid currency in the market, feeling it is the future of media.

As it happens, the dual media have almost nothing in common except that they both occupy people's time and are supported by advertising. On the other hand, both try to pretend they are, or can be, like the other.

Everybody in plain old media is trying to figure out some way to claim that it has a "social component", which means not much more than that it has a Facebook page and an employee with a title that involves social media. And everybody in social media is of the confident, but completely groundless, belief that what they are doing will sell products just as well or better than plain old media.

"Social is a fabric; it connects the individual nodes that make up the human network," says Brian Solis, who describes himself as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. It is that kind of gas that has long confused the issue.

Right now, the indisputable point is that plain old media, even as it steadily loses its claim on people's time, continues to attract a larger, and increasingly disproportionate share, of advertising dollars, just as social media becomes increasingly dependent on them. Eighty-two per cent of Facebook's revenues come from advertising – a much higher percentage even than that of plain old media.

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