Tuesday, February 26

Death of social networks? Not that way, and not yet!

Mark Jones, Filtered MediaMark Jones of Filtered Media is predicting the death of social networking. I don't think death is coming any time soon, and certainly not from Google and Gmail as Mark suggests. I think the bigger future threat for MySpace and Facebook are microblogging and social messaging layers over the top of the social networks.

Yes, social networks can't sustain the current growth. There will be a plateau. Following the plateau will come more realistic valuations, rationalisation and acquisition by the networks.

Yes, to some extent social networks will atomise - social networking platforms are already starting to blend in the features of other web platforms via their APIs and developer platforms, and it makes sense that some of that platform functionality will bleed out into email, search, blogging and other web platforms over time.

The 'friend spam' we see now on Facebook is a function of the immaturity of the social network businesses themselves, which are still learning how to manage open platforms, and to some extent a learning process for users - it's already unfashionable to be the friend who sends too much social network spam - soon, it will be social suicide.

I can't see Mark's 'Email 3.0' spelling the end of social networks. If I were an 18-25 year old, why would I need to wrangle with Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail if I can use Facebook's email to stay in touch with everyone I know? Hotmail spam vs Facebook spam? Give me the latter any day.

Why would I need to search from the Google homepage if Facebook was my homepage and I could launch a Google search from a Facebook app in my profile page?

Google's become the default for us 30-40 year olds, and Yahoo! is the default for our parents, but Facebook and MySpace have an opportunity to be the default starting point for our kids. ...if they seize the opportunity and execute well, which so far they have had trouble with.

Email is inherently a functional product - I need to have something to communicate to someone before I send an email. However social networks work best when I can use them as inspiration for finding something to say to my friends. I may not have any news myself today, but by browsing what my friends have been up to recently, there's always something that I can comment on, criticise, debate or LOL at.

Social networks will remain a place that people go to 'hang out' with their friends and meet new friends online. There will be fewer of them in the future, and the big ones will probably be owned by larger networks as MySpace is now.

But just as social networks have an opportunity to steal the email, search, media sharing and buying/searching eyeballs from the incumbents, there is already a couple of threats to the social networks: social messaging businesses like bluepulse (who are more comfortable if I disclose that I'm contracting for them any time I mention their name online, bless 'em!) and microblogging services like Twitter.

Social messaging businesses threaten social networks because they may steal away the user's all-important 'status message'. Without the status message being updated there's half the value of the Facebook newsfeed gone, and the newsfeed is everything to Facebook's business. If I can more quickly and easily update what I'm doing now from my mobile phone on bluepulse than I can on Facebook, then sure, Facebook may lose me (that's "me the hypothetical 20 year old" not "me the 43 year old".) Facebook's mobile product is still lame: you can't sign up as a Facebook user from a phone, and many of the key features are missing from the mobile product. Using MySpace's mobile product is like travelling back in time to 2000 and back in space to Boondocks, Carolina. I don't see any sign that Facebook or MySpace 'get' the importance of building a better mobile product yet.

Microblogging services like Twitter can also steal away the status message traffic and user loyalty from the social networks, by making it all about status messages, and then using the social network's own APIs to let the user update multiple social networks from one spot, saving time and money, both very precious to 18-25 year olds.

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