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What wins in social networking

If the history of the last decade teaches us anything, it's that we're not likely to stop at Version 3.0 in this phenomenon. There is a Next Big Thing out there, and another one after that, and yet another after that.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Social networking is the latest iteration of open source content, a business that has been around since the Web was spun.

Remember Geocities? Back in the 1990s Geocities, and companies like it, were the center of the open source content space. Geocities was just a place for your stuff. But it was stuff-oriented, its tools were primitive.

Blogger and the community systems that followed it -- Drupal, Wordpress, Typepad, etc. -- were the second generation. Here the focus was on you, rather than your stuff. The software was easier to use. It was instant publishing. It retains its niche in media and the enterprise space.

MySpace pioneered the third generation of social networking, the niche Facebook now dominates, and it's interesting to recall why it failed.

I think it was all a question of control. The day Fox bought MySpace, and Rupert Murdoch started talking about taking over the Internet, the game was up. Because on a social network you're the game. The network is the hall, but you're the game. When the landlord starts talking about locking the doors you leave.

Now that Facebook has figured this out, the question becomes what is the next growth driver. Is it an open API? Or is it, as Twitter alleges, simplicity and ease of use.

Our Matt Asay likes Facebook more than he likes Twitter. I go the other way probably because, at heart, I'm more of a Blogger guy. Facebook is an updated, dumbed-down version of the blog, Twitter a dumbed-down version of the RSS feed.

I don't tweet about going to the bathroom or playing with my cat. I tweet my tweets after I finish writing, tell them why they should read it, and check out what my colleagues have been up to.

What matters to me in a social network is getting the most publicity from the shortest commitment of time. Social networking is advertising for yourself. It's about seeking, and finding, your personal market, no matter how large or small that may be.

It's also about maintaining control of that market, and that process. It's what makes social networking and open source similar. It's about taking control of the process from the vendor and avoiding anything that smells like lock-in.

But if the history of the last decade teaches us anything, it's that we're not likely to stop at Version 3.0 in this phenomenon. There is a Next Big Thing out there, and another one after that, and yet another after that.

There is still time for you to find it.

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