Posted by: Ben | October 17, 2008

Where Social Networking is Going

Social networking is even hotter than it was before, and it’s barely scratched the surface.

Social networking sites (SNSs) are beginning to permeate into the non-digital crowd and into the office.

At the same time, developers are simultaneously working on all sorts of open API standards that will get rid of a lot of the problems we currently have with balkanized social networks: OAuth allows you to authorize a site to take data from a site you already have data on. OpenID lets you use one of your trusted logins to login somewhere else. OpenSocial is standardizing the containers and database fields for your personal data so different sites’ databases can easily port your data. What this means for you is that you’ll be able to move from one SNS to another without re-entering all your data over and over.

Listen to Kevin Marks’ lecture on data portability and the future of enterprise apps, from the Future of Web Apps conference in London recently.

We’ve been victims of lock-in since SNSs began; we start using one SNS and after nurturing our profiles there, we are reluctant to move, especially if we weren’t too hot on using the web to begin with. Being able to migrate easily means that SNSs will become easier to build and become more competitive. Seen in this light, I wonder if Marc Andreessen realized this when he decided to build a site that lets you create portals for your microSNSs. Even if Ning kind of blows.

SNSs are going to have to compete and offer more value. It’s quite clear Zuckerberg at Facebook realizes that there’s going to be a battle, and he’s doing well to arm his company for it.

I think one of the next battlegrounds will be in providing a platform that focuses on trust: personal data control will be a priority for users as they become more aware of how their data is used online. Not only that, but people, who then have control of their data, will want to analyze it — if they can use it to break down their own lives and define their own quantitative metrics, then SNSs will begin to be more tangibly useful by making our everyday lives more fulfilling.

Marketing

I went to an event at Google DC and afterwards started talking to some of the other visitors about behavioral marketing. It’s not really my area but basically one guy was saying that all these Web 2.0 sites need to offer ads in exchange for cheap or free service (which disregards other forms of monetization that one could build into a site…), and I was saying that I thought ads were pretty much bullshit.

Tom Davenport wrote at the Harvard Business Publishing blog:

“But it seems to me that many of the activities, business models, and assumptions behind social media are a bit fluffy, and that fluffiness is going to be difficult to maintain in the post-bubble environment we now find ourselves in.”

He’s right but not in the way that he explains it: a new economic model is coming. Clearly social networking and a lot of web 2.0 sites have economic benefit and increase productivity. This is not measured by most metrics, and certain not in ones that track monetary economic growth. But it’s transforming the context in which we live. When these companies that grind out cash from lazy customers start having to A) be wiser about their advertisement placement in a slumping-demand economy and/or B) throw in the towel when it becomes too costly to use outdated advertising strategies, the rest of us win. Movie, music, and software distribution models have already been shown to be horrendously behind. Advertising comes along with that.

Hell, even the federal government is going to adopt social media and the internet faster.

I found some agreement with a couple other people during our conversation at Google DC that the most effective form of marketing was what Facebook is trying to do with Beacon: if my friends all buy something and it is broadcasted to me, that has a far stronger influence upon me to buy it too. There are caveats, of course; not all my friends are wise on gadgets and may recommend garbage. But it’s far better than Amazon’s approximations of “what other people bought” or Google’s context-based ads, or behavioral marketing.

“Friends”

By the way, I just wanted to voice my angst towards a one-size-fits-all social graph that currently exists: you can only “friend” someone. You can’t classify him as anything other than a friend. Is it fair to say that this is because SNSs realized they don’t want to deal with the potentially massive problems of people being offended that others didn’t classify them as “best friend” or “buddy” or DID classify them as “enemy” or “acquaintance”? “Friend” is a nice, unoffensive term that’s safe and generic enough for people to use. Unless it’s McCain referring to “my friends”. Then it sounds pretty fucking creepy.

There. That should be a suitably jarring ending to an otherwise pie-in-the-sky post, right?

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