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Summary:

Social networks are now cropping up like mushrooms after a monsoon, most of them slight variations on the MySpace-Facebook model. Unfortunately that trend has pigeonholed the notion of social networks into a web-page paradigm, a virtual Rolodex that grows so big that it lacks context, and […]

Social networks are now cropping up like mushrooms after a monsoon, most of them slight variations on the MySpace-Facebook model. Unfortunately that trend has pigeonholed the notion of social networks into a web-page paradigm, a virtual Rolodex that grows so big that it lacks context, and hence relevance.

It is time to rethink the whole notion of social networking, and start thinking of it as a feature for other online activities. Already, we see companies like Affinity Circles and Social Platform turning the “social network” into a commodity, by offering turnkey solutions. That’s just the start. It is time to start thinking beyond the web-page paradigm, and think of social networking as part of a larger “experience,” one that starts to blend the best of online and offline worlds.

What got me thinking about this was a phone call from Mathieu Nouzareth, the chief executive office of a little known but fast-growing casual gaming company, Boonty.


He wanted to outline Cafe.com, a new service being launched by his Paris-based start-up. Unlike other casual game companies, Café.com is not looking to convert the gamers into upgrading and paying for a full-featured version of their games.

“The conversion ratio is pretty low, about 1 percent,” says Nouzareth. “Our model is basically free games, but you can add boosts to the game experience.” That is it wants to sell avatars and other such stuff to casual gamers for a few pennies. The model has worked for Habbo Hotel, and a bunch of other online virtual worlds. “Conversion is higher because the entry price is pretty low,” he says. “It is more attractive than a try-buy model.”

The more intriguing and perhaps interesting feature of Café.com is its social networking features. There are elements of presence management, chatting features, and by end of this year there will be voice added to the mix. You can create buddy lists and even build your own homepages. Nouzareth is hoping to build a close enough replica of an offline experience. He doesn’t call it a social network, but that’s what it really is.

Games, at least in the offline world, are a social experience. You visit friends for say a New Year’s Eve bash, and end up playing Monopoly. You talk, you scream, and if you are like me, you get serious enough in your bid to win. Of course you network, i.e. connect with others. Every time families get together, they socialize, they network, and sometimes they play games.

Beyond games, there are other offline activities that rely on social networks. Like watching television! Sure we are living increasingly private lives, but when there are major television events like the Super Bowl, or the World Cup of Cricket, we try and get together with our friends and family and enjoy them together.

A few years ago, when Sex and The City was all the rage, some of my lady friends would organize the “Sex In The City” parties, gathering together and shooing the boys out to the corner pub.

That social networking experience is what Joost aka the Venice Project is trying to mimic in its service. Watching television together online, chatting about it, and some day talking about what they are watching in real time. The best part is that you control your network, something I have argued for in the past.

The social networking is simply embedding itself into services, like say MOG or Last.fm. They are not social networks in the classic sense – aka like Bebo or Facebook or MySpace – but they essentially are social networks. They use the technology to enhance online experiences, which are the things we want to be doing. After all, life doesn’t happen, online or off, inside a MySpace page.

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  1. Om, this sort of goes with the comment I just left on the previous article here on your blog.

    I was thinking that social networking could be the center of many new features… Rather than creating new social network niches, the existing networks should start thinking of innovative ways that people could access or use their social network.

    My example happened to be location-based networking that is done automatically through a phone’s GPS unit via some sort of Java-based software.

  2. I think you are right, and this should not come as a surprise. after some point the long tail of niches just becomes that – the tail.

    LBS is another good example. I am thinking about more such features.

  3. This is why I have been watching wireless based technology so closely. Once we reach a point where most people have ubiquitous access to the internet via their cellular phone or PDA, such services would really begin to flourish.

    As it stands now, standard mobile web-based services (browsing news articles, for example) are usually very cheap and very easy to access. If you want full run of the internet, it will cost around $30/month, depending on the carrier. The problem with full internet access is that 1) quite a few users don’t want to pay that fee, and 2) most users don’t even know that they have a mobile browser or internet access.

    Hopefully WiMax will help solve these problems by allowing universal access across all devices for one fee (i.e. $30/mo gives you high speed access on your notebook, cellular, PDA, etc.)

  4. Jesse Kopelman Monday, February 5, 2007

    This leads to the question of whether what people want is a unified online identity (which in turn would eventually become integral to overall identity both on and offline) or separate functional identities. Clearly, it would be a huge boon for commerce if people want the unified identity (i.e. a whole new level of targeted marketing), but this would be a major paradigm shift for society. Just thinking about the fact that all the stupid usenet/blog posts I have made will probably be floating around in easily accessible archives forever is enough to give me chills. If social networking remains merely a feature of services that may come and go, things remain a lot simpler and the impact on both commerce and society as a whole is minimized.

  5. Jennifer Simpson Monday, February 5, 2007

    Om,

    I think you’re on point with this – one of the challenges of being an analyst covering this space is helping clients understand that social networks are not just for teens or people looking to ‘hook up’ online. Instead there are a number of different business models out there and reasons for companies or organizations to consider social networks as an alternate means of sharing knowledge, understanding customers, creating contacts, on-going communication, creating content, etc. Then there is a more embedded version of social networking that you discuss as well. But, to this point its been the group/individuals that have been the draw to a social network — what can be next? Applications are certainly an option.

  6. we’re doing this now with our p2p platform.

  7. There’s a quote I once heard that went something like this…

    “I don’t want to be part of a social network. I want to be part of something useful that happens to be part of a social network.”

    That resonated with me.

  8. People seem to jump from fad to fad. Right now MyBlogLog is the site for bloggers and Yahoo! recognizes the strength of the site, having finalized a purchase of it in January 2007.

    Likely, it will also fade as people realize that there is another new phenom out there.

  9. Very timely article, prompted me to write about 5 of the main lessons we have experienced from social media here I have linked to this story in my post article

  10. howard lindzon Monday, February 5, 2007

    Yes – especially today’s entrants. Tools seem like a better bus model than slugging it out at the community building level.

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