No I have not fallen of the face of the earth. It’s just been a little busy of late. Hence no blogging for the last few weeks, sorry about that, but these things do happen from time to time. It’s never been about lack of topics, more the lack of time.
Mind you during this time I have been able to reflect on various things. One of which is the future direction of online social networking.
What do we Have
At present we have lots of sites such as Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, LinkedIn that are all based around you, me and some other guy. They are very people focused, centred around “Me as the social network”. Which if you consider the TOSN this isn’t such a bad idea is it. We are a people focused society and collecting the social network around you as in your friends isn’t that new a concept. We have just migrated it into the online world.
But let’s consider the other aspect of social interaction. The common interest.
For years people have met to discuss books, sports, cars, bottle tops, stamps and navel lint (well maybe not navel lint). In the early days of the internet people gathered with common interests on mailing lists, then newsgroups, forums and now solid online communities with distributed communications from blogs, wikis, dedicated social networking sites.
There is another type and that is outcome based. Outcome based networks tend to work for short term delivery of the social interaction. Be that finding a partner, a job, or the latest issue of “Personality Slug”. Once you have obtained what you want in this type of social network, you aren’t likely to go back. So it’s very goal focused.
Times are a Changing
Is there a change happening in social networking. Well yes and no. Mainly we aren’t seeing anything new just a translation of the real world into the virtual and the adoption of the long tail approach to social networking online.
What is interesting is the fact that there must be a limit in size to some of these social networks. How much longer for instance can Facebook or Myspace grow before they reach critical audience mass. I would give them maybe a few years, and at that point they will have totally saturated into the market place.
But you cry what of the new sites like Yahoo Live and Seesmic, aren’t these the new direction. Well in a way, but only in that they use video as a medium, the social aspect is still very people centric. Anyway the social networking aspect isn’t being handled that well at all. Especially on Yahoo Live.
So what then. Well Facebook has tried to simulate the item or interest centric market via the use of groups, but in reality they are not used for the intended discussions. So people move away, or adjunct, the people centric networks to the interest centric looking to for fill their offline interests with online information. We have seen this in topic specific forums, wikis, IRC channels, social sites like Flickr, Youtube, and meta sites like Ning.
Another element can be added to this is the Citizen Journalist sites like the Norg. These sites focus on the product of news more that the headline farmers like Digg, in that they foster the localised content and a higher degree of social interaction. These are more interest and geographic focused which presents an interesting combination.
The Next Step
So where is it really all going. Well consider the next generation, computer literate, mobile device literate (mobile phone, iphone, micro laptop), the social network they have depends on their degree of connectivity 24/7.
Now leap frog this 2 to 3 years when we have a market of iphone clones and micro laptops. The use of the desktop will become more and more a thing of the past, much like the use of the ham radio, dump terminal and the typewriter. Connectivity is a little faster, there a few more few wifi points, it’s mainly the improvement of the mobile device that has opened up the use of the mobile social network.
In this type of environment the social networking “site” (SNS) is morphing no longer into a singularity such as Facebook, but a distributed system of micro applications interlinked by a glue like open service. All these applications need to run and work effectively at their core function on mobile platforms. It becomes a popularity contest of the social network to assume and maintain the social audience for the specific vertical application functionality.
The base line of the SNS forms like a building block, it is the people centric network. From this the sub networks of interest groups and the ad-hoc outcome based networks are born, grow and die as required. To be honest much like what happens now online and in real life. Except this time it’s more organic.
This is the ultimate organic social network, the old style SNS is immaterial, it’s now about the communication channel, the use of the application to seamlessly start to bond the interaction from beyond the browser and the cloud onto the desktop. If you aren’t mobile and wired you’re just going to be left behind in the wake of the mob.
So what do you think, off the mark. Or are we heading towards the real wired society?