Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Social Networking for Grown-Ups...

So much is said about social networks and how catch all social networks are all the rage right now. But look back a few years and you see all a landscape littered with yesterday's stars.
Friendster
Hi5
and to some extent
Orkut (Some may argue that Orkut is alive and kicking in India, but I beg to differ. Orkut isn't hip any mre, which means that over time it will slide into nothingness. After all which woman, wants 100 friend requests from absolute strangers)

And not to mention that the hundreds of new social networks that pop up every other day. Clearly a gold rush is on. The acquisition of Desimartini by HT 's Firefly eVenture is a symptom of this gold rush.
With the reported difficulties of Google & MS to monetise their respective ad properties of MySpace and Facebook, it is clear that we have seen all the hypergrowth we had to see, It will grow, there are after all several billion people on this planet but not necessarily to the point, where it will justify billions in valuations in the near future.Maybe Facebook will grow into something else. A Personal newspaper (or perhaps twitter will have that honour).
Other stories of fatigue (which are related to the relative difficulty in moetising) would be worrying people in this and affiliated industries

All social networks suffer from the what can only be termed as the nightclub effect. i.e. like in a nightclub, when the place is new and the hip people move in, it is the happening place in town, when they move on, the venue collapses. By, all means, it may still be around. But like the fashion trends, easy come, easy go... and like in fashion, there will be a few timeless classics...

So, what is the alternative?

Social networks that are targeted at niches, rather than at masses, The internet is a medium of niches. You go to amazon.com for books (amongst other things), expedia for airtickets etc.
Flixster seeks to be based around your interest in movies, but relies on the same base community of friends. Something around travel is eminently workable.

One such alternative look at social networks is geni.com. It is a social network for families. You seed it with yourself as the starting point and then build a tree. Son of, brother of etc. and repeat that with your parents, and your parents' parents. The good part is that the person invited has the ability to populate his own branch of the tree, which is relevant to him and only him.
It allows the usual smorgasboard of services like Birthday/ anniversary alerts, photo albums, newsfeeds et al. and auto generates calendars. So, it becomes pretty much a family bulletin board. This is one place, where I've seen my Parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews active on it. A first for any social network I've been on for the past five years.

The absolute best part, is that, if you don't belong to the family, you can't get in.

If MS or Google want to make an acquisition for the future, this is it. Imagine photo sharing apps, imagine family blogs, opportunity to refer gifts, air-tickets...
Anyhow, this is only one example. And perhaps more useful than most.

Another example is LinkedIn. Very effective. I get a lot done through linkedin. recommendations, contacts etc. I often accept random requests, thinking, they may be useful to me at some point in the future and therein lies the danger of it being rendered irrelevant, I may end up with a giant contact list which I neither care for nor use...

Google may have a better chance to refashion orkut into something more than what it is right now. Yahoo 360 is a nonstarter, otherwise they too had a good chance of making something of it... Imagine building a music recommendation engine basis your friend group rather than everyone in the list (which may include family and other people). I'm yet to see a social network that is slicing and dicing to that level of minutiae.
I'd love to see Amazon enter into this arena. Their recommendation engine is getting better and better over the years.

The bottom line, is that a catch all social network is unlikely to live on in the long term except as part of a larger bouquet of services. Till someone builds a social network for grown ups, well have to live with this  madness.
Originally published here on 07/Apr/2008