Follow the leader, and then kill them

June 2012

There have been many fads over the years; things that people get into for a short period of time before they are forgotten and disappear into obscurity. We’ve had flared trousers, Bermuda shorts, break dancing, planking, Tamagotchi, Spliffy jackets, cocaine, lava lamps and many pop stars. Does anybody remember Chesney Hawkes?

In fact the music industry is the biggest contributor of short-term fads. There are almost as many one-hit wonders as there are stupid Americans. This is because most bands and artists are churned off a musical production line. Very few of these plastic people last long and, as a result, manufactured bands come and go on an almost daily basis. This is largely because these pop stars are made up of people who, despite not having any musical ability whatsoever, have the right image to appeal to the sycophantic teeny boppers. In other words they are pretty boys or girls who look good wearing saucy bits of string. Proper bands often achieve less dramatic success but have longer careers because they chose to perform together and actually have talent. They generally write their own material rather than having songs written by a team of song writers as is the case with groups like One Erection or whatever they are called.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. Girls Aloud seem to have enjoyed longevity despite most of their songs being rubbish and having a ginger in the group. Take That have also broken the mould despite Howard Donald. They were lucky because, being a young and clean-cut manufactured boy band who appealed to teen girls and gay men, their longevity was always going to be limited. Given they were five strangers who were put together, they didn’t get on very well either. Therefore, they split up after only a few years at their peak. However, a decade later when they re-formed, they did so out of choice. They are now much older and appeal to an older audience of housewives, which is of course comprised of their old fan base of teen girls and gay men.

Of course, as is always the case with these success stories, there were a number of copycat reunions on the back of Take That’s success. East 17 attempted an ill-fated comeback which was never going to work because Brian Harvey was too busy running himself over and also because they were fundamentally crap. The Spice Girls also attempted a comeback but nobody really cares about them and, in any case, no one wants to see any more of Victoria Beckham pouting in front of a camera. Nor does anyone want to see Geri Halliwell out in public.

Copycat ideas are prevalent in the web world. As soon as a good idea comes along, it is a sure guarantee that literally hundreds of other sites will come along that are fundamentally the same. People see a good idea and think that by jumping on the bandwagon they will be able to cash in on the popularity of what is in fashion. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the world of social networking.

Social networking is hardly new. As soon as the world wide web came into existence, people were networking. Chat rooms were around pretty much from day 1 and Yahoo had their profiles page, which is basically no different to any modern day social network. The problem with Yahoo is they tried to cram too much crap onto their site and the whole thing just became too crowded. When Google came along, people started using that more. Not only because their search was infinitely better but because their site was clean, simple and easy to use. Basically they understood the importance of appealing to the simple-minded people, which basically caters for 99 percent of the world’s population.

The next big craze to hit the world of social networking was Friends Reunited. This offered something that the likes of Yahoo and MSN didn’t: This offered genuine people to get back in touch with old school friends they hadn’t seen in decades, rather than just allowing old perverts to sexually harass young girls on chat rooms. There were a number of copycat sites that sprang up after this. I was contacted by a number of people who claimed they had come up an original idea for “Ibiza Reunited”, “Affairs Reunited” and “Prisoners Reunited”, all of which are crap ideas anyway.

Friends Reunited’s demise largely came at the hands of MySpace. This site (which was fundamentally no different to the old Yahoo Profiles) offered exactly what Friends Reunited offered but on a wider scale. And it was free. Unfortunately, they went down the same route as Yahoo and made their site impossible to navigate around and cluttered it with pointless crap that was just annoying. I recently logged on to my old MySpace account after several years and, my god, it is awful. It is impossible to navigate, unclear, incompatible with decent browsers and is now owned by Justin Timberlake which is enough to put me off using it in itself. So it’s hardly surprising that people are migrating over to Facebook.

Where Facebook got it right was not only in their marketing but also because they went down the same route as Google; their site was cleaner, simpler, wasn’t full of annoying adverts. No, they waited until they had captivated the world’s population before adding all that. Then they copied Google by violating all known privacy laws known to man just because they could.

They also appealed to the right audience. MySpace ended up focussing too much on the music industry, Bebo focussed too much on the teen community who have the attention span of a fish and LinkedIn focus on boring business people who have no charisma. Then we have Twitter, which is basically Facebook with everything stripped out apart from the status updates. Wikipedia is technically a social network of anally retentive individuals with a chip on their shoulder who share their knowledge with the entire world. It is now the source of all information in the world. And most of it is probably bollocks.

So the internet continues to grow and be one of the most prolific industries. The problem is that anyone who works in this industry should be scared. If you are not, you are obviously an idiot because between Google, Facebook, Amazon and Wordpress, they have covered the majority of markets so people like me are pretty much redundant. Well some people say if you can’t beat them join them. I say if you can’t beat them, beat them. Because they will be expecting you to join them so you’ll have the element of surprise. Failing that, if you can’t beat them, join them and become their friend until they drop their guard enough. Then kill them.