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Online snake oil

Don’t you love the term ‘snake oil’? When I hear it, I visualize a dark-haired man with a pointy beard at the back of a covered wagon, waving a bottle and lecturing the crowd drawn by his voice, which is soothing when he talks about his miracle product but high and alarming as he describes what will happen to the man or woman who chooses not to accept it.

Sounds a bit like that old time religion, doesn’t it? Or like that new time religion, Web 2.0? I was just talking to Kate Noerr, CEO of MuseGlobal, who will be moderating the “From Network to Community” panel at the Global Information Industry Summit, about how hard it is for companies to tell what social media technologies really make sense for them. How do you tell an opportunity to connect with customers or build content in new ways from a chance to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars?

When I have these conversations, I always try to do a gut check. Am I being rational about technology (a technorealist, as someone once put it) or just an old fogey? For example, there’s been a lot of talk about Second Life at business information conferences in the last year, and I’ve been a skeptic. It hasn’t made sense to me that people who go to a virtual world to play their online friends would want to visit corporate “islands.” You can imagine my delight when I picked up Wired magazine this morning and saw a feature called “Lonely Planet,” about all the companies that have set up virtual worlds in the website Second Life and found that no one’s coming. We’ll be taking a look at Second Life and other social media platforms for the GIIS panel.

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