Skype, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook Are 2011’s Disrupters

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Who will set 2011’s standards in NewNet technologies like social media and real-time feeds? In terms of growing user adoption, revenues and technology innovation and influence, a few types of companies come to mind.

First, there are the obvious leaders: Facebook and Twitter. These NewNet behemoths — though it’s hard to call such relatively young companies that — remain two of 2010’s highest-impact players and can’t be excluded from any forward-looking discussion of the social media space for 2011.

Facebook. You can’t miss the influence of Facebook’s user growth and its technology platform. But even if it’s a billion-dollar business, Facebook is making far less money off its users than Yahoo, let alone Google — both of whom sell many more ads per user. I don’t expect Facebook to cash in on its social graph by licensing the data — that would be a privacy PR nightmare. I also believe its execs when they say the company is not working on a social media ad network — yet. But in 2011, we should expect at least two things from Facebook:

  • Facebook will build out its advertising and sponsorship offerings. It needs to do that to get more money from big-brand advertisers. Facebook Pages should get a richer creative palette, and may also get better integration with off-site targeting and measurement. That might require an ad network partnership — are you listening, Microsoft?
  • Third-party developers will handle apps. Facebook will likely leave the development of more engaging app experiences to third-party developers in its ecosystem, and concentrate on communications. Facebook Groups and Messaging are both heading down a path toward a unified communications hub.

Twitter. At some point, we have to answer three questions about Twitter:

  1. How can it make money?
  2. How important is its data?
  3. How can its information feed be made more useful for users?

The answers may not be as related as you’d think. Twitter bailed out on social commerce, and it is still only experimenting in advertising, though its recent site redesign is much more accommodating of display, video and search marketing. Expect to see it expand its data licensing and concentrate on building out features — probably something that feels like topic filters — so users will find its site and apps both more addictive and more flexible. That focus would be at the expense of solving the real-time advertising opportunity, although we’ll probably see richer and better-targeted ad formats on Twitter built off its learnings from promoted tweets and trends.

Facebook and Twitter may be a given in 2011, but other mid-range companies stand to potentially disrupt the NewNet space this year.

LinkedIn. One of the original social networks, LinkedIn’s professional social graph includes extremely rich data, including profession, expertise, sophisticated contact relationship info, “six degrees of separation” connection weighting, etc.

LinkedIn already acts as an easy-to-use, efficient Twitter filter: Users’ contacts who tweet are automatically added to the LinkedIn network activity feed — no need to follow or make lists. LinkedIn offers company pages and product recommendations, and is even trying to syndicate its own Like button. But what would be more interesting would be mining that professional graph for more than job-hunting, say, for instance, by building out ad targeting, sales opportunity connections and more professional services.

Skype. Skype, the leading global Internet voice and video communications network, has 124 million average monthly connected users and half a billion accounts, many with billing relationships. Skype is well-positioned to act as a unified communications hub for managing different types of communications, contacts and groups. It could play a role in presence management. Most of its integration efforts have been done to get Skype voice and video on more screens. Could Skype be a social network, or is the company content to offer communications services to social networks?

Of course, these companies aren’t alone in the space, and there’s a handful of stalwarts I suspect we haven’t finished hearing from. To read about that group, see my column at GigaOM Pro.

Image source: flickr user compujeramey

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