Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Social Networking Trends

Many people consider the beginning of the social networking trend with the advent of Friendster and their now patent pending linking to your friends algorithms. However, does anyone remember thesquare.com which still exists today? The Square is a site that created a community based on where you went to school. It underwent much criticism as being elitist since it only allowed the Ivy League Universities and a few other esteemed institutions (e.g. Stanford, Johns Hopkins, MIT).

The trend in social networking is rapidly looking like the landscape that the Square first pioneered: Building a niche group of individuals that have something in common. Sometimes ANYTHING! Sneaker Fanatics, Models from Top Modeling Agencies Only, Bodybuilders, are just some of the niche social networks that are popping up. In theory, each social network is great. There is a very easily identifiable demographic (e.g. sneaker fans), user generated content (freeing the company from having to think up anything new), stickiness (lots of time spent on site, since this is an interest for the user), and data sharing (each user gets more out of the social network the more information that they provide to it). However, because each social network takes up so much time and the whole point of the social network is to find others will similar likes and interests, only those with large enough user bases will be able to gain traction. MySpace has done very well with over 150 million profiles and counting, but marketers have caught on as well as the typical “gray” side of the internet, (adult sites, gambling, spam, etc). Profiles are being created that appear to be real people inviting you to online gambling rooms, to view their private webcams, and to hock other products and services traditionally tied to email marketing.

What will happen here? I think that companies like 5across (now acquired by Cisco) that are creating multiple social networks for multiple verticals which also allows the user to port their profile across different networks will emerge as the way to go. Today’s users have too many interests to be able to create a different social network profile for their myriad of interests. Other networks with not enough die-hard fans (Wal-mart shoppers, for example) will die a quick but quiet death.


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