Where social networks will take us

I'm heading to Supernova, starting tomorrow, where I hope to find some new ideas about social networking. Because the old ones are wearing thin.

I'm heading to Supernova, starting tomorrow, where I hope to find some new ideas about social networking. Because the old ones are wearing thin.

Social networks are looking more and more like general-interest magazines that hope to sweep up as many features as needed to attract and keep a viable advertising base. Magazines add new editorial angles and columnists hoping to keep folks coming back just like social networks toss up different ways to connect to the people in the network. Even if a social site is growing quickly, it is still only possible to make connections with other people who come to the site. The social Web may be editable by all, but it looks more like a stagnant magazine concept every day.

I've said it before, and Dave Winer said it very clearly, too, these social destinations are not really our communities, but mock-ups of community offered by Web sites:

Eventually, soon I think, we’ll see an explosive unbundling of the services that make up social networks. What was centralized in the form of Facebook, Linked-in, even YouTube, is going to blow up and reconstitute itself. How exactly it will happen is something the historians can argue about 25 years from now. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will, unless the rules of technology evolution have been repealed (and they haven’t, trust me).

Mary Hodder wrote last month about her increasingly difficult swim through the daily information flood, When will social networking not be about reconnecting all over again at a new destination site to people I've known for years?wondering what tools can help her with "the social interaction and information overload [that] has become high pressure."

As a series of destinations on the Web, social networks become a daily or hourly task that doesn't scale as an industry. At some point, if these tools don't speed people's participation in their communities, growth will come to a screeching halt and, like magazine publishers of old, the business will be about retention rather than the things members want to get done. Because media moves so fast these days, these lifecycles are happening faster than ever. Friendster, Orkut, even MySpace are passé among early adopters, who are currently flocking to Facebook after its API announcement.

To prove my point: I joined Facebook a few weeks back and now have more than 100 friends—great friends, too—but it is the same group I've assembled two or three times on other sites. When will social networking not be about reconnecting all over again at a new destination site to people I've known for years?

Making this change requires serious reconsideration of technology decisions that appear to dominate in social networking today, as well as discussion of who owns what data in the increasingly interconnected economic environment in which social activity takes place. I talked about this is a recent posting at the Supernova Conversation Hub blog.

These questions are what I'm working on with a new startup and certainly a project much-discussed in the industry, so I am looking forward to actually sharing some physical space with the Usual Suspects at Supernova, because it's always a source of good ideas.

Watch this blog for notes from Supernova throughout the week.

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