WoD – Why social networks are like shampoo


A question on the progression and popularity of the biggie social networks for you.  (Once stated, this may seem obvious, but nobody seems to be talking about this element or putting it in this context.)

So, we all can sense and sort of feel the shift online from sites like GeoCities, Flickr or other early social network experiments like those to MySpace, and then to Facebook, and now to Twitter.  And how many believe there will be another, new social network type of site that captures our fascination at some point in the not-too-distant future?  I imagine when posed like that, just about all answer in the affirmative.

So here’s the question:  do you feel that these big social networks are competitive with each other, like the way Coke and Pepsi are?  I mean, what if Twitter and FB or MySpace work together, or open up their interfaces to integrate, or play nice like this?  Aren’t they set up to do slightly different things or offer different services anyway?  FB is nothing like Twitter, right?

I still think the answer to the question is a definitive YES.  They’re all competing, rather directly, although they may not even really feel it or act it.  Here’s why.

What we all have a finite amount of is, time.  And even though the younger generations may have a lot more of it, there is still only so much time in a day any one of us can spend on social networks.  So therefore, to me at least, it is a zero-sum game:  if you are on Facebook, then you are not on MySpace.  And if you are (now) on Twitter’s site, then you are not on Facebook’s.

Why does this matter or make them direct competitors?  Well, almost all of these social network sites (with the present exception of Twitter) have a business model predicated on advertising.  And so, the way they make money is a direct function of pages viewed, rank, and time spent on the site.  While we may have both a FB and a Twitter account, we can all realistically only spend so much time on any one site.  And THIS is what makes all of these sites direct competitors.  As I wrote, kind of obvious.  But no one seems to be highlighting the fact that they all are, effectively, competing for our time.

Now let’s go back to that question about what may come next, and whether/when there will be a new new thing.  Since we all feel it will happen, isn’t it only a matter of time before it competes and cannibalizes all before it?  What’s also interesting is that while it feels like this is happening slowly, it is actually happening blindingly quick.  Not too long ago MySpace was on the cover of Time, and the Person of the Year was “You” (only in 2006).  FB isn’t going away any time soon (or is it?), but here we are only ~3 short years since MySpace was the talk of the town, and now they are laying off 40% of their workforce and shuttering a bunch of offices.





A true khaver is hard to find but good to keep.


2 Responses to “WoD – Why social networks are like shampoo”

  1. 1 Brad Blake June 29, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    “What we all have a finite amount of is, time.” Agreed.

    And, I think you’re right that,for a lot people it’s a zero-sum game (“if you are on Facebook, then you are not on MySpace. And if you are (now) on Twitter’s site, then you are not on Facebook’s”). Even for those who are really good at managing all of these sites through various RSS readers and aggregation tools, it’s still a lot of manual back-and-forth, having the same conversations in different spaces, etc..

    So, wouldn’t the next logical thing be something that helps to aggregate all of the different social networking sites so you just go to one place and can do all of it (and I’m not just talking about Facebook and Twitter – but all the blogs I read and like to respond to at times, the social networking sites I belong to for work like http://www.govloop.com)? And maybe helps guide/aggregate conversations in the social media world (so, if there are three Facebook groups about classic diners, some reviews of classic diners on Yelp and TripAdvisor, some conversations about classic diners on Twitter and some photos about classic diners on Flickr, it helps bring them all together, somehow?).

    If someone could come up with something like that that REALLY worked, I would pay for that.

    I wonder, would others pay for that? Is there enough penetration yet? Are there enough people with multiple accounts facing the same frustration?

    Would enough people pay for that that the uber-aggregation site could give a chunk of their revenue to the “free” sites so the free sites would be more willing to give up their content and work with the uber-aggregation site to content to make it all jive together? Maybe they could even make more money than they make through advertising?

    There’s your ‘monetization’. Get working on it.

    • 2 Yiddish WoD June 30, 2009 at 9:22 am

      We could call this uber-aggregation site Aggregatr. (That’s actually sarcasm.)

      Ok more seriously, great idea! A very quick search and one Google click revealed this link though: http://mashable.com/2007/07/17/social-network-aggregators/ which listed off about 10+ sites already trying to aggregate online presence (and it is from 2007). Without researching all these sites, I still don’t think there is a “winner,” or great aggregation service yet. If there was, we’d all be using it; because as you highlight, this notion makes good sense and has real utility. It ought to look like a dashboard of sorts – almost like a My Yahoo page with different areas for diff. social networking sites, that can be dragged/dropped/moved, etc. Here is one that caught my eye and looks promising – check it out: http://www.hcii.cs.cmu.edu/M-HCI/2006/SocialstreamProject/Socialstream_demo.mov

      On the question of whether a meaningful enough amount of people would pay (a meaningful enough amount of money), I think the answer is likely no. Especially if there are free services out there already, with some of this functionality. (Even if it shared revenue back with the underlying content sites.)

      However, one sure-fire way to get people to pay would be to include free Yiddish words, sprinkled throughout Aggregatr. Now THAT would drive ’em on in…!

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