Is the Social Net Working? A Cautionary Tale from the Realm of Online Community

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where we are on the timeline in regards to social networking. I do believe we are now entering the most productive period of the lifecycle of a new technology. Namely, the period where the hype has subsided, and the technology either fades from memory due to its inability to endure, or as in the case of social networking, fades into the woodwork to become ubiquitous. Think about it. Not many web applications launch these days with a social networking angles built into somewhere. Social networking has become a feature, not an application.

The current state of Social Networking reminds me of an application I was the product manager of when I was on the Adobe Acrobat team. Back then, I had a little stand alone application called Acrospider. It included a create PDF button for IE and Netscape (remember Netscape?).

Nowadays, you can find Acrospider in Acrobat and see the buttons in most of your applications after you install Adobe Acrobat. File>Create PDF>From Web. As a stand alone application, we test marketed it a few times and couldn’t quite figure out the business model, however as a feature it’s become an indispensable function for us Acrobatphiles . I see this natural progression happening with Social Networking and I am heartened by it.

Say goodbye to the MySpace effect, the press hype, the fly-by-night knock-offs rolling off the assembly line and wasting the cycles of venture capitalists (not to mention giving them a bad taste in their mouths for all things SocNet). Now the real work can begin. No longer do we have to write reports to our superiors and board members outlining what our Social Networking strategy is, no longer do I and others have to suffer the endless questions at speaking engagements and tradeshows which are all endless variations of, “How can I build a MySpace and sell it for a bazillion bucks?”

Social Networking/Social Applications deserve better and now we’re in a place historically to give it better.

What does this mean to those that build ad/marketing applications? A lot. Now that the neophiles and fad squatters are moving on to greener pastures, MySpace and Facebook can focus on how or if it can settle on a model that makes money. Meanwhile, we can now go back to the business of how to make the ‘wisdom of crowds’ better serve the crowds and in doing so, better serve us that serve the crowds. The strength of Social Networking is and has always been its core philosophy: Systems by people for people. This means, in essence, that the system is an intelligent system, it learns from the way people use it and modifies itself accordingly.

Included under this new umbrella of all things Social Networking SHOULD be the advertising and marketing attached to these systems. Bear in mind, we’re not really talking about the MySpace or Facebooks here, nor are we necessarily talking about the Collective X’s of the world. We are simply talking about web (or even networked desktop) applications. Why shouldn’t ads evolve into more contextual, more adaptive messages, targeted and one to one?

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