Friday, January 18, 2008

Social Networking Entreprenuerial Opportunities

Last Saturday, I was a panelist at the CalTech - Social Networks event. It was a really good event with lots of interesting folks in attendance. I would guess that there was about 100 people - on a Saturday in Pasadena. That shows some interest in the topic.

The presenters had some interesting things to say on a wide variety of topics. A post by Elrend Wilhelmsen discusses some of what was discussed.

My main points were:

Social Everywhere -

I work with a lot of different shapes and sizes of companies and it's interesting how each one has opportunities to leverage its users to form different kinds of communities, create connections, encourage contribution, etc. It is almost universal that there are opportunities around social networking. Generally these are oriented around:

Niches & Content Oriented Networks

You see all kinds of niche networks coming up. Outdoors, faith-based, etc. The current huge players (MySpace, Facebook, etc.) are broad spectrum. But the innovation right now is encouraging either segmentation within these larger players or via niche networks. Seeing what has happened on top of Ning is interesting. Lots of niches.

Content is often a defining mechanism to create these networks. Flickr, del.icio.us, YouTube all create social networks. However, this will also start to go into lots of niches around particular kinds of content.

Media & Brand Integration

There are also lots of interesting things happening where large media and large brands are trying to integrate with social networks. Obviously, there's a powerful combination when you can take a source of people (media) and combine it with an appropriate niche network and allow large brands who are interesting in reaching that audience. Lots of deals are going to be done in this way.

One of the examples that was discussed by one of the panelists was MyCoke.com. It was pointed to as an example of a social network. I am not that familiar with MyCoke, but I was bold enough to say that I thought "MyCoke got it wrong." My reaction to MyCoke is that they have some pretty good content on the site, e.g., some very listenable music, but the reality is that people are unlikely to really go spend much time in that destination as a separate island. Certainly, going and signing up for MyCoke is difficult. The destination should be something else with heavy integration of Coke branding. They clearly spent lots of time and effort, and the reward is just not going to be there for it. Which brings me to the other thing I discussed...

Big Challenge

There's a constant challenge that we continually face. We have a niche or content that we believe would inspire people (who are already out on social networks) to collaborate. Our choices for what we offer them all have major downsides:

1. Create a new destination

The big challenge whenever you create a new island that represents your community is that there's overhead for the people involved. It's is hard for people to justify the investment to integrate themselves into your community. Am I willing to establish myself again in this new environment? This barrier makes it hard to achieve critical mass.

2. Leverage an existing platform

We've created Facebook applications and used Ning. While this greatly reduces the effort for most users and gets you there more quickly, you don't really own this audience and it puts big limits on what you can do.

Certainly, what we are seeing with OpenSocial and DataPortability represents a possible future state where we can avoid some of this issue. If we could focus on building our "destination" on top of a set of open protocols that provide us with the social graph for users but that allows us to control our destiny, I believe that's the right model in most cases. It reduces friction for end-users and still gives us the leverage you want.

If you think about this abstractly, the goal is for all of us to provide grouping and content as a layer on top of a general social graph platform. Each of these destination represents a fluid grouping which is the most natural mechanism in a networked world.

The problem I have is that this isn't here today ... What do I do today? It's a big challenge...

2 comments:

Dave said...

Tony

I agree, the future in niche social networks has to be more expansive than what Ning and others offer today. We have to be able to own our users 100%, not just 98% (or less).

That being said, I use Ning for a social network at FirefighterNation.com and do feel a lot more 'ownership' of my users than some others may feel. I ensure I collect as much information as I can about them, including double entering email addresses, etc. so that as I launch separate web products or services in my niche, then I've got my audience at the ready.

Also using your own domain is absolutely critical on platforms like Ning, etc. I see folks building sizable audiences without it and it makes me wonder what they are thinking given the small amount of money it usually costs to enable that functionality.

I do look forward to the future as tools like OpenSocial and more powerful APIs will allow us to expand the features and depth of not just the social network aspects, but also integrate traditional and 'next big thing' web functionality. We're just at the beginning stages of this, and its a very exciting time to be involved in targeted social networks (and the web in general, of course).

Dave Iannone
http://www.NicheSocials.com
A resource for targeted social network creators

http://www.FirefighterNation.com
The social network JUST for firefigthers, rescue and EMS.

pwoodford said...

like the comments and ideas. good points. FYI, brandstation is a new social network platform for businesses / enterprise. You get to own all the user and social data on the networks you run. Also we're adding more components and about to release a major architecture upgrade that will have open social api and ondemand component selection.
www.brandstation.tv