If I live in a luxurious cage, am I any less a prisoner than if I live in a concrete cell?

In this week’s episode of Inside Pr, we talk about the biggest trend social media trend of all: mainstreamification.

As the traditional business models for traditional media wither away, as social media start-ups become mainstream with mass audiences and seek to generate revenue that justifies their sky-high valuations, we have decisively left behind the early social media ecosystem of independent voices and the culture of generosity that nourished it. We’ve left behind the free and self-sufficient connections of self-publishing and replaced them with the dependence on proprietary social networks.

Martin calls this the “mainstreamification” of social media. In five years, he argues, we’ve seen the triumph of the “get if fast, get it first, then get it right” mentality in online news outlets. Both he and Joe point to the large number of voices previously found on independently published blogs who have moved their content onto platforms like Huffington Post or Forbes.com in pursuit of the much larger audiences that those platforms have attracted. They have left behind their independent mindset for a mass media mindset.

We shouldn’t be surprised that these networks put their own business interests ahead of users’ interests. It’s not just one move. It’s a range of moves. It’s Google turning its back on its core Google Reader users and dropping support for RSS feeds. It’s Amazon, the king of the walled garden publishers, taking over GoodReads which, until now had been a champion of the device and platform agnostic publishing. It’s Facebook publishing a start page for Android to entice users of the most open mobile OS into its walled garden.

Social media was born out of our desire to have a voice and to connect with people who shared our interests. It provided us all with a low cost/no cost way to be heard. And as such, it celebrated the niche. It didn’t matter how narrow the audience was. The economics of the platforms and the passion of the users supported interests of all shapes, sizes and natures. No one was unimportant. Everyone was important if they had something to say.

What are the downsides of the mainstreaming of social media? The decline of the niche. The decline of innovation in platforms that serve niche content producers. The era in which voices with something to say mattered – even if they didn’t have a mass audience.

We should not sleep walk into this era of mainstream dominance. Gini points out that the strategies of the dominant platforms give us reason to remember the smaller, independent providers of tools for self-publishing and content discovery and curation. If we are open to examining these options, we may in fact find that they are better.

So, in this era of “mainstreamification,” let’s celebrate the independent voices.

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Send us an email or an audio comment to insideprcomments@gmail.com, join the Inside PR Google+ Community, join the Inside PR Facebook group, leave us a comment here, message us @inside_pr on Twitter, or connect with Gini DietrichJoe Thornley, and Martin Waxman on Twitter. Our theme music was created by Damon de SzegheoRoger Dey is our announcer. Inside PR is produced by Kristine Simpson and Ashlea LeCompte.

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