Social networking is one of the biggest parts of the famed (or infamous) Web 2.0. Giving power to the people, having people add value to your product, that’s what Web 2.0 is about…or so I keep hearing. This certainly started out as true. In the beginning there was Friendster, and it was good. But it didn’t scale and ultimately couldn’t keep its users. Then came MySpace, and it was…ugly. Yet through its ugliness, MySpace grew into what Friendster should have been: an ever-expanding network of people seeking out new connections left and right. And then there was…

That’s exactly the problem facing the Internet right now: generic social networking is dead. MySpace is and was the last big generic social networking site. Why? Because social networking without purpose is useless. Eventually, the teenagers who inhabit MySpace will get older, get jobs, get married, etc., and then they won’t really care that they have 43,214 “friends” (neither will any of those friends). The novelty of these social networks that do nothing is already starting to wear off.

For some reason, companies all around the world are still throwing their hats into this ring. The fact is, there’s no compelling reason to join a generic social network anymore. Initially, it was interesting. Purposeful social networking is now where it’s at. Sites that combine the social aspect around some activity or service are hot. Sites like LinkedIn (which mixes social networking with professional networking and related services), Facebook (which started as a way to interact with other students at your college, replacing the stereotypical hard-copy facebook), Flickr (which combines social networking with photo sharing), and YouTube (bringing videos into the social arena) are the future of social networking on the Internet. Combining groups with activities and/or services is the only way that social networking will survive out of this decade. MySpace will slowly sink back into the bizarre ocean from which it arose and only the purpose-driven social networks will remain. But that’s not all that will happen.

People will get social-networked-out. Ultimately, they will choose two, maybe three, social networks to belong to. This prioritization of how users spend their online time is something that new sites will have to be primarily concerned with. Generic social networking sites won’t even stack up because the return on the time investment doesn’t measure up to the return on purpose-driven social networks. The real question for developers is: how can your social network offer enough value to make it into that top two or three that people will spend time on?

Creating YAGSN (yet another generic social network) is something that companies shouldn’t be doing right now. Sites that have users should figure out how to get them to interact; sites that want users need to figure out what their value is because users now need to see the value to pull them away from MySpace or even Facebook (which is quickly becoming more generic).

Disclaimer: Any viewpoints and opinions expressed in this article are those of Nicholas C. Zakas and do not, in any way, reflect those of my employer, my colleagues, Wrox Publishing, O'Reilly Publishing, or anyone else. I speak only for myself, not for them.

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