The next generation of social networks will have a purpose

Social network graphic 

An oft stated theme of mine over the last few months is that the next generation of social networks will be about “doing stuff”.  The first generation – MySpace, Bebo, Piczo et al are primarily about communication and identity, with a bit of music thrown in.

Nothing wrong with that – they have hit on a clear and widespread demand for an online platform to provide a space for self expression and hanging out – networking for its own sake if you like.  The seemingly slightly pointless nature of networking for its own sake is what has the uninitiated (and the worried) asking all the time “what is that people do on MySpace”.  This echoes the emotions of my parents when they couldn’t understand what I did all day when I hung out with my mates on the common.  Just being in touch with people and building your identity within your peer group is a full time occupation for the young.  Always has been.

IMHO the next generation of social networks will harness the power of the web to allow a slightly older crowd to “do stuff”.  To break that down a little further I think social networks will form around interest areas and social networks will grow up around key decision areas in our lives (typically big purchases).  This trend reflects the differing needs of people of different ages – most adults don’t have the same need for self expression as kids and many or us are time poor – so we will focus our online time in our interest areas and to help us run our lives more efficiently.  (Interest areas and ‘big decisions’ overlap for many people – e.g. gadget freaks and their love of consumer electronics, or travel lovers and their holidays.)

This is not really new news.  Evidence of this trend is widespread already.

  • WAYN (one of our portfolio companies) is a social network for people interested in travel and with 7m+ members is perhaps one of the most developed examples of this trend.  People use WAYN to network with other travel lovers (interest area), to figure out where they might travel to next and organise their trip (big decision).
  • Crowdstorm is a social network that “helps you find what to buy by measuring the buzz around products.  You can also see recommendations from friends and people you trust”.
  • TrustedPlaces is a social network “where people can remember, share and discover great places”.
  • TouchLocal has added reviews and other community features to its

These examples are all from the UK and combine interest areas AND big decisions.  There are pure play examples as well

  • TouchLocal has added reviews and other community features to its online yellow pages business to help people make better decisions (e.g. which builder to use)
  • Over in the US Dogster (where my friend Jeff Clavier is an investor) is a social network for people who love dogs – purely and simply about an interest area.

There are many, many more examples (social nets are cheap to launch, after all) – I think, hope, believe that the best of them will hit the big time.