The Future of Social Networking

by francine Hardaway on August 2, 2007

When my husband died ten years ago, I joined a social network. I didn’t know that’s what it was, but it very nearly saved my life in my grief. It was called WidowNet, and it was a chatroom for the bereaved. It was in the early days of the web, and most of the interaction took place through email and chat. The reason I call it a social network is:
1)it was both synchronous and asynchronous
2)I made good friends on it
3)I never met many of them face to face
4)After a year I understood how to live with my grief and quit visiting it

So social networks aren’t new.
Then several years ago I joined LinkedIn. I did it because:
1)it was a repository for my career information
2)it was a way to connect with more people
3)I never met many of them face to face
4)People wanted to connect to me.
5)After a year I understood how to manage my resume and my connections and quit visiting it.

Now I’m on LinkedIn, Tagged, Friendster. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, Ning, Second Life. In fact, I’m on so many of them that I can’t keep track of them all.
Do I visit them all? Yes. When I have a need. Will I stop visiting them? When the need goes away.

I think I’m a believer in ad hoc social networks that fill a timely need. That’s what started MySpace: the need to share music. That’s what started Facebook: the college “pig book.” Once a social network becomes mammoth, it’s difficult for it to distinguish itself from the larger Internet. Like Flickr. Like Youtube. So I think social networks will continue to niche themselves.

But what do I know? Here’s what the AlwaysOn panel thinks will be the future of social networks.
Ning CEO: there will be milions of social networks
Wallop CEO: there will be no social networks, it will be ubiquitous
Facebook Co-Founder: We’re pushing the boundaries of what closed and open mean. It’s necessary that people take their identities with them, which is why we are having other people build applications for us. These apps can transition between social networks easier than the users can
MySpace SVP: OpenID or passport idea of taking your identity with you is very complex
Ning CEO: Do people really want a single profile? You might want a different identity as an independent journalist than as a skateboarder. In the real world, people have different sides of themselves that they show to different communities.
Wallop CEO: Is Karl the dog guy different from Karl the CEO? In ten years, these social networks will be lightweight, not like Facebook.
Rich Rosenblatt: Portable profile should be something you can pick or choose. You should be able to re-post your blog, but you need one log-in. Keep your unique identity per web site, but pull elements out it.

Social networking needs new ways to monetize. Rich Rosenblatt says people will get on niche social networks who will never get on Facebook. Demand Media has just launched a site for golfers: Golf Links. They can be monetized through advertising. Ning has a group called Classroom2.0 which is for teachers who are interested in new technology.

I think we should stop calling it social networking and people will like it better. (People who wouldn’t be caught dead on a social network will perhaps become involved in an online singles group.) It takes a while to see the value and figure out what a network will do for your life. A year ago, how many people were active in a social network? In more than one? Adoption rates are moving very quickly in this space.

And what about the phone? The future of social networking is the future of mobile computing. When it goes to the phone, we won’t even think it’s a network like we don’t see the phone as a network.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristin Park August 2, 2007 at 10:34 pm

I find it fascinating what the panel members said about the future of social networking. I’ve often thought that it would be so much easier to have just one profile and password to get into any group — so much less confusing (and less schizophrenic). And, yes, we do need a different name for social network. I’m sure you could come up with something way better, Francine!

David LaPlante August 4, 2007 at 8:42 pm

As I’m writing this I’m looking out my home office in to the backyard of my 90-year-old elderly neighbor. She lives alone, yet is alert, dynamic and fun to chat with. She spend most of her days alone reading books.

It makes me sad to know that she missed the generation whereby the majority of folks her age will interact in a continuous global conversation and that their mental health remains happy and connected as a result of this “social networking future”.

For now, she looks forward to the few minutes a day she gets to hang out with my kids or chat with us and the other folks in the ‘hood.

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