One Web. Many social networks. Facebook’s Achille’s heel.
// July 8th, 2010 // Communities/Social Networks
Facebook will die.
When it comes to asserting my regard for Facebook's prospects I feel a bit like the guys over at housepricecrash.co.uk. This website was set up by friends with a mutual interest in the UK property market in 2003 and, as the name of the site subtly betrays, they predicted a bit of a tumble in house prices. And of course they were proved right. Eventually!
But social networks aren't subject to the same dynamics as the 'irrational exuberance' that fueled the house price climb to an all-time high. In the arena of social networks it comes down to a mix of 'softer' issues, such as the simple push and pull of fashion, and 'harder' issues, such as the underlying technological construct of a social network.
Economics can take a role, most obviously at play with the so-called 'network effect' eBay concreted in many markets, and in their ceding some markets to Yahoo! for example where Yahoo! secured that market's network effect first. But that's more ecommerce than social networking.
Linking the human and technological factors of social networks is the philosophy of the network host / owner, and this may be articulated rigorously as founding and guiding principles, or just reflected implicitly in the actions that simply feel natural to the leadership responsible for the network's evolution. Interestingly, if David Kirkpatrick's upcoming book on Facebook is to be believed, the latter appears to fit Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg.
Just over two years ago I was interviewed by Ecommerce Times about the prospects for B2B social networking, and I referred to people's innate recognition that they actually have different social networks, in an offline context, and that this will ultimately be reflected online too. Specifically:
The all-singing, all-dancing social network (Friendster, Myspace, Bebo, Facebook) will increasingly represent the minority of our online social networking. We will gravitate towards specialised networks dedicated to our specific sports interest, hobby, profession, health condition etc.
But, we won't have to establish our profile from scratch on each of these, nor our network of friends, as developments such as OpenSocial allow us to take our profile with us. This interoperability will also permit much easier control over our engagement in each network.
When I facilitate workshops on social media I always ask delegates to name the 'biggest' social network, and depending on the year, they name Friendster or Myspace or, latterly, Facebook. Regardless, I always respond by saying that the Web itself is the largest social network.
It's with great interest then that this morning I stumbled upon the work of Paul Adams, Senior User Experience Researcher at Google, courtesy of @litmanlive. Paul has written a book called Social Circles due out in August, and he has published a presentation of his user research on slideshare (above).
It's spot on. And with Google lead champions of OpenSocial, you can rest assured that Google won't try and keep you strapped into 'GoogleBook' or whatever their future social networking programme might be called. It also appears to marry some of the thinking behind and aspects of the work underway at Diaspora, and by all accounts at Automattic.
Paul and I also appear to agree on the over-emphasis placed by public relations practitioners on "influencers" (see slide 131 of his slideshare). For regular readers of my blog, or indeed anyone who's discussed these things with me at conferences, you'll know I advocate influence-centric approaches to social media, and not influencer-centric. But back to Facebook...
Facebook has got it wrong. Facebook has backed itself into a corner from the perspectives of technological architecture and its philosophy, first implied now explicit, that 'public' is the new 'private' (see ZDNet article).
Facebook will die.
Oh OK, it will shrivel at least!