Ramblings on Facebook, social networking and the future

SimonGeneral

The rapid growth of Facebook subscribers has caught the attention of offline media in a big way. Every newspaper I’ve picked up this week has featured a Facebook feature, and most have also noted Rupert Murdoch’s concern that Facebook is overshadowing the Murdoch-owned MySpace.

At the same time new social networks are springing up all over the place. It seems that these sites fall into one of two broad types: sites that don’t target particular groups of people (such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo) and those that do (such as LinkedIn, and for communicators: MyRagan and the Melcrum’s Communicator’s Network).

But how many social networks can one person actively participate in?

I can see how being a member of several social networks can easily lead to too much information than one person can cope with – from this tweet Neville looks like he’s experiencing just this.

In real life most people only have one social network one professional network. So why would they want to be a member of more than one social networking site for each real life network? Doing that would lead to duplication – linking up with the same people but on different services.

It’s likely that in the medium term any tool that links together social networks will find a role, but in the longer term I can see a big shakeout in the number of social networks out there as people start to congregate around the social network that delivers them most value.

Facebook’s open model is a big step towards allowing the user to generate their own value from the service through almost infinite customisation and personalisation.

So given most people don’t have the time to exist on many social networks at the same time, what does this mean for the targetted social networks against the larger general networks?

The value of a social network is in people being able to socialise in whatever groups, formations or networks they want to operate in. As long as the general networks continue to allow people to create and manage their own groups, then for social networking alone there doesn’t seem to be much differentiation against the specialist networks.

In the world of communications, I guess the two specialist networks appreciate this. I haven’t joined the Melcrum network, but the MyRagan network offers plenty of free content that’s useful to communicators and should help encourage people to visit the site regularly.

The differentiator for the specialist networks here isn’t the provision of the content itself, as that could be done in the same way on a general network, but is the fact the network is provided by a publisher that has the resources to produce the quality and amount of content that will help drive repeat visits.

LinkedIn is an interesting case – I’ve yet to see real value from it beyond using it to keep track of professional contacts. If those contacts were on Facebook then I’d probably stop using LinkedIn – as it doesn’t seem to offer any extra value as I don’t use it for recommendations or introductions to new professional contacts (I’ve always wondered about the credibility of this kind of introduction, having only received irrelevant or time-wasting introductions myself).

At a conference panel discussion a few weeks back a delegate asked how they could separate their personal life from their work life on social networks. The unanimous answer from the panel was that it just wasn’t possible to separate them.

The pervasive and connected nature of the social web means that links will be eventually made between any separate profiles, so it just isn’t worth doing – just another reason why fewer but bigger social networks will exist in a couple of years than they will now.

Other posts worth checking out in a similar vein are:

And if you’ve got this far and don’t have a clue what I’m writing about, then I can thoroughly recommend the recently published second edition of the social media whitepaper from Lee Hopkins and Trevor Cook – a great primer for this topic.