The future of social networks

What will social networking be like in ten years? Who knows, but we won't be having panels about it.

What will social networking be like in ten years? Who knows, but we won't be having panels about it. At the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit 07, there was such a panel, titled "Social Networking 3.0," led by Charlene Li, a senior analyst Forrester Research.

The panelists (below) included representatives from some of the more prominent social networks: Travis Katz, senior vice president and general manager of MySpace International; Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook; Rich Rosenblatt, CEO of Demand Media and former MySpace executive; Gina Bianchini, CEO of Ning; and Karl Jacob, CEO of Wallop.


Jacob dealt with the ten year question: "If we are here in ten years talking about profiles, web sites or social networks, something is really wrong. Social networks will be woven into every product and thing we touch," he said.

One of the big questions is whether social network would be more open, especially in terms of allowing profiles to be shared among users of different social networks. "We are pushing boundaries of what closed and open mean. It's very necessary for people to take identities with them and supplement with content from elsewhere," Facebook's Moskovitz said. At this point Facebook users cannot export their social graph or profile to another service--nor do any of their competitors with large populations offer an API for sharing the data.

Facebook's definition of open is allow external developers to tap into the social graph so that users can maintain their identity and graph of friends across apps build on the Facebook platform.

MySpace's Katz waffled on the question. "I'm not sure if it will happen or not. It's fairly complicated and there are privacy issues, but interesting concept," he said.

Rosenblatt said the Demand Media is developing a portable profile for its users that allows them to have a single log-on and to pick and choose what to expose on different social nets.

Bianchini's service allows users to create their own social networks. "In ten years we'll see millions of social networks for every niche, need, language, location and passion," she said. "I disagree that people want a single profile--they want to have identities for different social networks."

That may be true, but users will want to manage their identities in a unified manner and to have the kind of openness that would allow them to map friends list across different services.

The application of social networks like MySpace and Facebook in a business context has been an issue of late. Many corporations are turning off access to social networks as productivity wasters.

Katz cited one to many communication and sharing files as tools that can be interesting for businesses, with a caveat: "I shudder to think how addicting and how much time is spent on social networking. I can imagine it going terribly wrong," he said.

The panelists put targeted ads at the top of the list for how they will make money. Moskovitz noted how businesses that integrate with social networks, such as Netflix, could surface better recommendations from the social graph and generate more revenue.

A question was asked about the MySpace, Facebook and a few others owning the social networking space in the long term. "The lesson from the Internet is that it's never game over," Katz said. Indeed, looking back over the last decade you can see the leapfrogging that went on in the search arena.


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