All of the recent hype around “meta social networks” like Facebook and Myspace and their experimentation with new and bold forms of advertising belies the fact that advertisers and users are still on an elusive quest for relevance between themselves and what’s available on the web (other users, content, and ads). The quest has lead these parties to discovering social networks as a way to, well…discover.
The act of discovery is a simple exercise in finding other items (content, people, ads, etc) that are relevant to you and your interests. This desire to find new and interesting things on the web has drawn people into social networking, yet Facebook and Myspace are falling short because they are mere aggregators of massive amounts of people. The current movement from these larger Social networking “Portals” to niche networks with deeper and more relevant content (reminiscent of the late 90’s user migration from meta portals like yahoo and MSN to smaller, niche player sites) simply means that people are discovering more relevance on the smaller more focused sites. Facebook and Myspace are too busy acquiring users without focusing on the use of those users….and people are leaving. Just look at the success of Ning. The current valley quip says that as soon as your network gets big enough, you goto Ning.
Focus is the reason that the online user is finding that the smaller sites are better source of content. Any site worth its beans will have social networking tools in the future and their focus alone will make them more relevant to their users. Not rocket science.
For an example, look at bookQube. Its a new “social network” for those interested in books. Books, like TV and other media, provide the ultimate water cooler conversation and consequently a great place to aggregate like-minded individuals around common subject matter (relevance, anyone?).
Not only does bookQube provide the blogging, commenting, networking and book club creation tools, it also allows its users to visually locate other users, content, and books they might like based on their interests they have already expressed.
This process of intuitive discovery is the future of social networking. Discovery as it is today will be turned on its ear by semantic web functionality like recommendation engines and real-time data analysis that can tell users (and advertisers) what media and users they will like and “auto-magically” recommend them to the user — vastly speeding the process of discovery (and improving a site’s navigation and engagement.)
This is where the web, or web 3.0 (excuse the hackneyed dotcom nomenclature) gets fun. A well designed site will have enough information about the user and the content on the site to dynamically tell them what on the site is most interesting to them and point them in that direction. The user wins with relevant content and friends and advertisers and publishers win with more relevant ads that people actually click on because they are not the usual interruptive tripe.
This post originally appeared on the Relevantly Speaking Blog: http://www.relevantlyspeaking.com/rs/2007/11/27/the-real-use-of-social-media.html