Web Services As TV Shows

One thing I’ve been thinking about in the past year is the growing faddish nature of the web. The Time Magazine Top 50 got me thinking about this again. They have three lists; the 50 "Best" websites, the 25 websites "we can’t live without", and 5 websites to avoid.

When you get on the Top 50 list, your goal is to move up to the "can’t live without" list like digg, delicious, Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook did. But it can also go the other way, like MySpace did, from hot to not in a year’s time.

I read a post on IP Democracy last fall that compared web sites to TV shows, they launch, they get popular, they have a run, and then they are over. That’s a scary notion if you are investing in a venture deal. I guess there are some TV shows that produced venture scale returns. And I don’t know enough about the economics of the TV business to be intelligent about this comparison, but it just seems like VC is the wrong economic model if web sites are in fact TV shows.

Now the "can’t live without list" has some properties on it like Google, Cragislist, Amazon, Facebook, Wikipedia, etc which are not at all like TV shows. There are clearly web services that have staying power.

But surely there are many more that don’t. There are a number of services on the Top 50 list that I am a big fan of, some of which we’ve invested in and many more that we haven’t. Services like last.fm, Etsy, Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn are on my personal "cant’ live without" list. Will they move up and on to permanence? Or will they fall back and end up as TV shows we loved and moved on from?

And the Facebook apps situation is even worse in this regard. How many Facebook apps will come and go versus how many will stick around for the long haul?

The cause and effect of this trend is clear. It costs a lot less to build a web app these days. So thousands get built every month. Most don’t even develop an audience at all. Some build an audience for a while. Very few build an audience that lasts for the long haul, whatever that is.

Those of us who invest in the consumer internet need to pay attention to the reasons that some services are "TV shows" and others are not. This post is too long to get into the factors that differentiate the two but I have my thoughts on that and will address them in another post.