Do We Really Need Another Social Network? Or a LOT more social networks?… If so, why? What kind? More inclusive (larger) or more selective, private, intimate (smaller)? Why? Why? Why?
Apparently Facebook is not for everyone. With 850 million users quickly approaching a billion – Facebook is obviously the biggest gorilla… It’s users represent about 1/7th of the global population.
Of course with any space this large, there is always room for at least a few alternatives and competitors. That main alternative in my opinion right now is Twitter with (surprise, surprise) 500 million users! Quite impressive… and they’ve made huge strides lately. (Resources on those numbers here)
They are both very different networks and the argument can easily be made that Facebook is more of a social network whereas Twitter is more of an interest network – but people generally lump them together (and these lines keep blurring) so I will too!
A recent New york Times article goes into detail on the new micro-social space currently dominated by Path including FamilyLeaf and Pair. All three are great ideas: Path… a network for your inner-inner-circle; FamilyLeaf… a network for your family; Pair… a network for the two of you (you and your significant other).
The premise of the NYT article and the hypothesis behind these smaller networks is that Facebook or Twitter or any of the big social gorillas is that they are so noisy and public with semi-connected and non-connected people that there is less incentive to share what’s truly important, because a lot of what is really important is intimate.
Signal to noise issues: From the content creator / sharer’s perspective, obviously Facebook and Google have made is very clear that you can share selectively with individuals or groups. Apparently this step is too difficult for users to adopt – for the most part, they don’t. From the audience / reader’s perspective, Facebook and Google and Twitter have made it dead simple to change subscription levels from receiving everything to only the most important info to completely unsubscribing.
If you haven’t tried curating your social newsfeeds you should give it a try… it makes a really BIG difference.
Google+ started with a theoretically better system with circles… but I’m assuming that people using Google+ (and yes, people really do use it!)… don’t utilize the advantages of circles as much as they could or should. Facebook immediately introduced the exact same features which are rarely utilized by most users.
Flashback to the days of arguments on vertical search engines vs general search engines. (Google, Bing, etc. obviously now integrate websites, news, realtime, video, social, images, blog, etc… it didn’t always work this way!)
So the debate, or the question that was (and still is) being asked about search (vertical vs general)… now spills over into social (vertical vs general or… small vs big).
So many players, so many use cases, so many incentives, so many competing agendas! Let’s explore the extremes…
Group A) Let’s pretend you’re Robert Scoble or Danny Sullivan… or even… Barack Obama or Justin Timberlake. You have zero interest in limiting your audience… at least not the audience of people interested in the brand of YOU. The bigger your reach, the better.
Group B) The flip side… A 26 year old mom who wants to share sensitive / intimate baby pics with her husband and grandparents and her two best friends and that that’s it! If anyone else sees these pictures she would die!
Facebook and Google have definitely made both scenarios easy to accomplish for both groups if they really wanted to on their respective platforms. But users simply don’t use these options (for the most part).
My assumption is that Facebook and Google+ make these options available but purposefully difficult because they are huge media machines with giant apetites that need to feed on massive amounts of people sharing everything with everyone with algorithms ensuring the cream rises to the top so the user experience is exceptional and remains sticky – people keep coming back for more, and more, and more. Train wrecks on demand every refresh.
Let’s pretend this is the case for a second… does this then mean that the small, micro, refined, vertical social networks will ultimately become snoozers and ghost towns because less content means less quality rises to the top? Maybe. That argument can easily be made – these smaller networks will probably be much less tabloid-y and therefore less addictive unless the users themselves are tabloid fodder… and we won’t be in their innermost circles (at least I won’t be).
But maybe that is a huge advantage to many more users that everyone imagines. The other side of the argument is that intimate social networks wil allow people to share much more because the environment will be safer and more inviting. More real life, less Truman Show.
I know lot’s of people who regularly tell me that they wouldn’t dare post XYZ to Facebook because they don’t want to appear one way or another to so and so… Facebook, Twitter, Google, Etc. are SO public that these people have drawn a line in the sand and now choose not to share anything resembling intimate information – some have unplugged completely.
The average Facebook user has +/- 250 friends on Facebook. Let’s assume some outliers like your 56 year old mom who has 14 friends skew the average a bit and the real number is higher. This number is still way bigger than what constitutes real friendship (in real life) according to scholars:
Mr. Dunbar, a professor at the University of Oxford , claims social networks resemble a set of concentric circles: 150 people constitute the outer boundary of friends, 50 is the limit for trusted friends, 15 for good friends, and 5 for best friends.
Dunbar’s numbers ring true to my life. What about you?
So a line in the sand has been drawn… big & general social vs small & vertical social!
“Big social” wants us all to have as many connections as possible… the more the better… definitely more than what scientists observe as real life friend behavior. But in my opinion, their ultimate goal isn’t to facilitate social interaction… their goal is to create authentic identity across the web to facilitate walled gardens informed by big data for interest graphs, intention graphs, and social proof.
“Small social” wants you to connect with only a few, intimately, truthfully… There are benefits to these kinds of networks for users and benefits to these companies too in the form of clearer social signals – in other words, there is value in big data from small social networks. In fact, if the same number of people that use big social used small social, the signals would be much clearer (although much more fragmented assuming more slices of the pie). Everyone in this camp is basically a startup so it’s easy to say their motives are more altruistic. But businesses are businesses and if any of these small social companies survive they will have to make money somehow.
Back to vertical search vs general search: It would be hard to argue that general search hasn’t won the battle so far… will the same be true for social? Time will tell. If history is any indication, general will win (for most).
I’m a glutton for punishment so I sign up for virtually every social & interest network imaginable and try them out. The first 2-3 is bearable, the next 3-10 is tiresome, after that it just gets ridiculously painful.
Presumably this is why every new network has moved to a Facebook, Twitter, or Google login default – (plus there are significant advantages with golden handcuffs) for using those APIs – they provide a huge head start in terms of graph info. (again… walled gardens… but that’s another post).
I’ve touched on big social vs small social, but not general vs vertical… these are not the same at all. General social vs vertical social really starts to get at Social Graph vs Interest Graph which is a whole other messy issue. But although big vs small and general vs vertical seem clear… the lines still manage to blur. See FamilyLeaf’s founders comments below:
Mr. Mehta says he and Mr. Zhao have used Facebook solely with their friends. When their older relatives want to join in, to stay in touch, a problem can arise: a moment’s inattention when posting can lead to accidental sharing with those one doesn’t intend to include. “I don’t want to have to filter myself for two completely different audiences,” Mr. Mehta says. Mr. Zhao adds: “It’s no more feasible than thinking that you could use Facebook for both friends and work. It’s as if there would be no need for LinkedIn.”
To FamilyLeaf’s credit, since their target audience is “people with families”, their potential user base includes everyone on planet earth. At the same time, they would technically remain “small social” and “vertical social” even if every single person in the world used their product… dito Pair and Path. I love to root for underdogs, but if these types of networks start to gain real traction, I can’t imagine big social (Facebook, Google, Etc.) iterating to ease the facility of these forms of smaller group social networking that they already offer but don’t promote or endorse at all.
After all, if Facebook or Google+ acquired Path or FamilyLeaf or Pair, wouldn’t these be almost identical to the circle or group offerings already available?
It’s like Facebook but just for your friends!
Social media / authentic online identity is at an inflection point right now and it’s utterly fascinating. Adding the location elements make the [r]evolution even more interesting.
Newsfeeds are the new boob-tubes except algorithms change the channel for you.
Which newsfeed are you hooked on? Which newsfeed will you be hooked on in a year? Big or small, general or vertical?