The social Web has finally arrived. The question is where is it going. What Facebook, MySpace, Linked In, Xing YouTube, Xanga, Bebo, etc. and their fossilized antecedents from the late 20th century germinated has reached adolescence.
Right now its a big cha cha, with everybody joining the dance, dancing to their own tune and trying to figure out what attracts a community and keeps it clicking, sharing and happy.
Most recently Reuters said it would create a financially-oriented MySpace" for subscribers, USA Today added a host of social features to its Web site, Cisco acquired the technology assets of Tribe.net for reasons the pack is still trying to figure out and Ning launched its do-it-yourself social network creation service. Users can stamp out their own customizable social networks like pulling tissue paper from a Kleenex box.
Fred Wilson references Marc Canter's statement--"All software must be social"--and laments the lack of a single, portable profile that can be transfused into any social network you might join. Your attention data is held hostage by each social network. Interoperability is limited to moving media, such as video and photos, from place to place, but not relationships and attention data. Marc points to OpenID2 as the way to deal with users managing their personal data and attribute exchange across social networks.
Like the early stages of many technology-based phenomena, social networking began with exploration and discovery, and now the land grab is at full tilt. It is a period in which a few land barons have amassed large audiences, and now upstarts, some with ample resources, are trying to carve out new territory.
In his New York Times story about the next phase of social networking, Brad Stone describes the recent frenzy:
Social networks are sprouting on the Internet these days like wild mushrooms. In the last few months, organizations as dissimilar as the Portland Trailblazers, the University of South Carolina and Nike have gotten their own social Web sites up and running, with the help of companies that specialize in building social networks. Last month, Senator Barack Obama unveiled My.BarackObama.com, a social network created for his presidential campaign by the political consulting firm Blue State Digital.
Some land barons say they are open to the idea of a Web without boundaries, but the business reality is collecting as many users as possible and keeping them fenced in, grazing on each other's social media. APIs and emerging standards, such as microformats and OpenID, will enable more semi-permeable boundaries, but for the foreseeable future users will be not be able to engage in the network of social networks.
Update: Marc Canter lays out the cards on the land grab, business models and open standards