Social Networking is a FEATURE

Picture%206.png Based on recent experiences with Facebook and several blog entries from insightful and skeptical prominent bloggers, it has become apparent that social networking has become a very “commoditized” component of the online experience. Social networking has become a feature, not a destination. In effect, as the web has become more writeable and user-generated, social networking functions will be standard on every website, thus setting us on the course similar to that of the late 90’s: users migrated away from the main “portals” to smaller, more focused niche sites for richer and deeper content and community.

This fact may explain why Facebook has “opened” up so much (with the goal of becoming a social networking fixture on other sites). A smart move in my mind, as stand alone “meta social networking” has seemingly begun to “jump the shark”. It also may explain Googles recent legitimate salvo in this battle.

In my opinion, David Bohnett, the founder of GeoCities, said it best in the recent article in the Journal :

“It’s the same as it is today — people want to feel like they’re connected, give them a set of tools and they’ll do it.”

Anywhere you go on the web, you should see social networking capabilities. People want to create community anywhere they spend time. They use this community function as a place to make a spectacle of their lives, interests, and expertise…to provide legitimacy to their desire to belong to the community.

Rather than making predictions now about the demise of facebook and myspace, I’d rather discuss the future…

The real long-term question in this game is: Will any company get it right for the end user? There is no reason (other than a walled garden’s need for revenue and unique users!) that an end user should maintain several different online profiles and manage the content in each across the many communities in which they they socialize. I like the idea of the single login for all Google apps. It makes my life easier, and it makes the ads Google serves up more relevant and ultimately more profitable.

Nirvana for end users would be to have a traveling profile that they can access across several niche sites. Why shouldn’t my movie preferences be used in helping me determine what books I’d like and vice versa?

Sadly, I don’t think this nirvana is a reality in today’s landscape, as the large social networks like myspace and facebook rely on logins to target and these businesses will certainly not welcome the idea of an open ID for social networking features that span all sites. It is my hope that when most tier 1, 2, and 3 sites have social networking features, the ability to open these profiles to other networks will exist. If looked at intelligently, its a win-win. The end user gets a profile that travels, lessening his or her burden, and those sites that accept this traveling profile benefit by more relevant recommendations for ads and content (higher eCPM). The good news is, I don’t think that technology is too far away…it looks to be right around the corner. For some interesting reading about these kinds of solutions, read Alex Iskold’s Piece on the Attention economy and read about Attention Profiling Mark-up Language (APML).

So what do you think? Will it ever happen?

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