The next generation of social networks

As the actual mechanics of how we use social networks continue to evolve it's only a matter of time before Facebook, Twitter and even Google move to a freemium model.

You may be forgiven for thinking that in terms of social network platforms, there really is only four worth considering; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google . After all, these are probably the best known and most talked about of the social networking sites. However, there are about 203 different social networks out there, some of which are bigger than both LinkedIn and Google .

In fact, new networks are springing up all the time with the launch this week of an exclusive social network “Best of All Worlds” which is an invitation only emulation of a virtual “country club”.

Earlier this month, a Twitter-like network App.net also launched with the first members paying for access to the advertising-free social network. While advertising on Twitter has so far been obtrusive the company is aggressively ramping up its advertising capabilities. 

This is not the first time that a social network has launched on the premise of addressing what is seen as a fundamental flaw in the existing big four platforms. Diaspora started two years ago to address the increasing privacy concerns of Facebook users. It also picked up users who defected from the fledgling Google over the so-called “nymwars" that resulted from Google’s insistence on people using their real names rather than pseudonyms. Google was closing down accounts that it considered were not conforming to its community standards by using a verifiable name.

But Diaspora has failed to catch on and this week it moved to being a community project. The original developers have moved their focus over to a site called Makr.io which is a “meme generator” site. Basically this allows users to put comments on images and then share them with friends and the public.

Apart from this being a fairly sad move from the sublime to the ridiculous, it does reflect the fact that the concerns people express about Facebook and other platforms have not been sufficient to have people voting with their virtual feet by shifting elsewhere. In the case of Diaspora, their good intentions was not enough to make up for a fairly clunky software experience.

Shuffling between networks

Social networks are essentially sticky. To move, you have to decide to abandon the people you are connected to unless they all move with you. Given that according to Pew Research, the average person on Facebook has 229 friends, this is unlikely to happen.

What is happening, however, is that people are using more than one social networking platform. Other than business and special interests, there are sites that cater for people’s language, culture and now even religion Salamworld plans to provide a social network environment that adheres to the principals of Islam.

Users will be safe in the knowledge of not encountering pictures of drunk relatives in various states of undress. Christians already have their own social network called Cross.tv which has around 450,000 members.

Sites such as patientslikeme reflect another sub-specialty of social network where the site offers particular functionality, in this case charting your progress with a chronic disease or illness whilst connecting you with other people in a similar situation. They are the most likely to understand what you as an individual is going through and so offers an opportunity for support that would be harder to achieve on Facebook.

More than just a community

An interesting development in the spread of social networking sites is the use of Facebook as a means of account creation, identification and signing on. Other than making it very easy to get started with a new site, it reflects the acknowledgement that the new user is going to continue using Facebook and social networking sites are using Facebook to network their own network. In the process, Facebook becomes the social networking glue between all other networks. Whether there is much cross-over from one network to another will be interesting to see.

For new sites like Best of All Worlds, the outlook is promising. The actual mechanics of using social networks are becoming second nature to us, as is the ability to be involved with more than one network. The idea of exclusivity or some other lure will appeal and will be something that people are prepared to pay for. It is only a matter of time before Facebook, Twitter and even Google moves to a freemium model and tries to compete in that space.

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