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.

  • I agree, although I’m biased for obvious reasons. Check out Passions Network (http://www.passionsnetwork.com). It is a network of over 100+ individual social network/online dating sites, each focused on a specific area of interest or similarity. People can ‘network’ with others who share something in common with one another, whether that be a love of pets, a love of movies, a love of Sci Fi, the fact that they are shy, etc. The list of all 100+ sites can be seen here: http://www.passionsnetwork.com/c_resources.html

  • I agree, although I’m biased for obvious reasons. Check out Passions Network (http://www.passionsnetwork.com). It is a network of over 100+ individual social network/online dating sites, each focused on a specific area of interest or similarity. People can ‘network’ with others who share something in common with one another, whether that be a love of pets, a love of movies, a love of Sci Fi, the fact that they are shy, etc. The list of all 100+ sites can be seen here: http://www.passionsnetwork.com/c_resources.html

  • ‘what I did all day when I hung out with my mates on the common’
    That phrase brings back memories – but would it mean anything to anyone who didn’t have a ‘common’ to hang out on. I’m from Tunbridge Wells, big common town. You?

  • ‘what I did all day when I hung out with my mates on the common’
    That phrase brings back memories – but would it mean anything to anyone who didn’t have a ‘common’ to hang out on. I’m from Tunbridge Wells, big common town. You?

  • nic

    Ha – I’m from Gerrards Cross – small common lots of activity!

    I kind of hoped people would guess roughly what a common is from the context.

  • nic

    Ha – I’m from Gerrards Cross – small common lots of activity!

    I kind of hoped people would guess roughly what a common is from the context.

  • Do you think the big networks – e.g. myspace will continue to introduce vertical elements to their network – e.g. Myspace Music (already), Myspace travel etc…?

  • Do you think the big networks – e.g. myspace will continue to introduce vertical elements to their network – e.g. Myspace Music (already), Myspace travel etc…?

  • nic

    Thanks Phil. I am sure the big networks will introduce vertical elements. It is up to you and the other new entrants to innovate and be better. You have a head starte though – firstly these guys haven’t got their core business model licked yet and second a pure play has the advantage of focus – it would be hard for MySpace to combine their music and consumer electronics a la Crowdstorm for example

  • nic

    Thanks Phil. I am sure the big networks will introduce vertical elements. It is up to you and the other new entrants to innovate and be better. You have a head starte though – firstly these guys haven’t got their core business model licked yet and second a pure play has the advantage of focus – it would be hard for MySpace to combine their music and consumer electronics a la Crowdstorm for example

  • Joe

    When social networks center around an affinity, it seems to me they are doing little more than forums (some have alluded to Forum 2.0).

    Any interest, hobby, and subject already has message boards and yahoo groups. The vertical social networks have to compete with these existing forums. Unless there is a compelling reason to “network,” the members of these communities may not have incentive to join “Myspace for …”

    This is where I believe face-to-face interaction is key. Social networks should really be bridging the offline to online. Communities that have regular f2f exhibit a dynamic that a simple message board cannot meet. Whereas an affinity group may be content with the tools that already exist.

    Not saying it can’t be done… just that it will be difficult to compete with existing forums (which already have community, search engine placement, etc). Another point to consider is that forum software will evolve to become more social. Each member can already have a profile and private messaging. Just give them the ability to add each other as friends, and you’ve got a social network.

  • Joe

    When social networks center around an affinity, it seems to me they are doing little more than forums (some have alluded to Forum 2.0).

    Any interest, hobby, and subject already has message boards and yahoo groups. The vertical social networks have to compete with these existing forums. Unless there is a compelling reason to “network,” the members of these communities may not have incentive to join “Myspace for …”

    This is where I believe face-to-face interaction is key. Social networks should really be bridging the offline to online. Communities that have regular f2f exhibit a dynamic that a simple message board cannot meet. Whereas an affinity group may be content with the tools that already exist.

    Not saying it can’t be done… just that it will be difficult to compete with existing forums (which already have community, search engine placement, etc). Another point to consider is that forum software will evolve to become more social. Each member can already have a profile and private messaging. Just give them the ability to add each other as friends, and you’ve got a social network.

  • nic

    I agree that adding an offline component is very important. WAYN and Trusted Places do this well with parties.

    Competition from forums is a good point. Social nets typically offer a better proposition by having a better site, but the forums could upgrade.

  • nic

    I agree that adding an offline component is very important. WAYN and Trusted Places do this well with parties.

    Competition from forums is a good point. Social nets typically offer a better proposition by having a better site, but the forums could upgrade.

  • johnyD

    yep i can confirm that WAYN is one of the best travel social network…cool site 😉

  • johnyD

    yep i can confirm that WAYN is one of the best travel social network…cool site 😉

  • Hi Nic,

    As I can never resist an advertising opportunity, I thought I should mention that you’ll soon be able to add another to the list of sites with a specific objective. In a few weeks time, Flirtnik will provide online dating for the creatively-minded in the UK.

    Tim

  • Hi Nic,

    As I can never resist an advertising opportunity, I thought I should mention that you’ll soon be able to add another to the list of sites with a specific objective. In a few weeks time, Flirtnik will provide online dating for the creatively-minded in the UK.

    Tim

  • Well, forums have never been “mainstream” really Joe. A true mass market consumer proposition happens when my parents can use it easily and liked it! The first time they did this with price comparison, I knew something was brewing in the air..

    So, a forum has always been seen as a place where the technical literate go and ask very technical questions to each other in a geeky way. That’s the “perception” at least.

    Due to this, you need to do a lot more than “upgrade them to let people add friends” before they start to compete with an affinity based, offline enhancing social network.

  • Well, forums have never been “mainstream” really Joe. A true mass market consumer proposition happens when my parents can use it easily and liked it! The first time they did this with price comparison, I knew something was brewing in the air..

    So, a forum has always been seen as a place where the technical literate go and ask very technical questions to each other in a geeky way. That’s the “perception” at least.

    Due to this, you need to do a lot more than “upgrade them to let people add friends” before they start to compete with an affinity based, offline enhancing social network.

  • It hasn’t caught on in Australia (or in the UK, by the looks of things), however Yelp.com are setting a precedent by paying users to review businesses, in order to build up a critical mass in cities that they are not established in
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/01/10/yelp_reviewers_paid/

    Cheers,
    Mark
    http://www.raveaboutit.com.au

  • It hasn’t caught on in Australia (or in the UK, by the looks of things), however Yelp.com are setting a precedent by paying users to review businesses, in order to build up a critical mass in cities that they are not established in
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/01/10/yelp_reviewers_paid/

    Cheers,
    Mark
    http://www.raveaboutit.com.au

  • Hi there Nic
    This is not a comment but I have been reading back thru your blog articles with great interest.
    I would like to contact you but I dont see any other way on this blog than thru the comments box so please excuse me for doing this.
    I am not sure whether you have looked at and registered at exiva.com but the article above really took my attention and in a way emphasised what I am tryiing to achieve with exiva- namely penetrate a market that is aware of social networks but belive that they are purely for the younger generation.
    And besides, social network is still the wrong term for exiva. Its like your first page you read when you click on the internet- to see whos been doing waht with their digital lives. A bit like Star trek- in the future, a control panel where you can catch up with video calls or other news- all relayed thru either a pc or a mobile interface.
    exiva.com at the moment is purely a very simple interface to prove that I can at least get a product up and running. What I need now is hard cash to develop and nurture it over the next 12-18 months.
    In your experience of the industry, do you know of anyone who might be interested in a slightly longer play?
    Once again, apologies for hijacking the comments facility,
    regards
    Nick

  • Hi there Nic
    This is not a comment but I have been reading back thru your blog articles with great interest.
    I would like to contact you but I dont see any other way on this blog than thru the comments box so please excuse me for doing this.
    I am not sure whether you have looked at and registered at exiva.com but the article above really took my attention and in a way emphasised what I am tryiing to achieve with exiva- namely penetrate a market that is aware of social networks but belive that they are purely for the younger generation.
    And besides, social network is still the wrong term for exiva. Its like your first page you read when you click on the internet- to see whos been doing waht with their digital lives. A bit like Star trek- in the future, a control panel where you can catch up with video calls or other news- all relayed thru either a pc or a mobile interface.
    exiva.com at the moment is purely a very simple interface to prove that I can at least get a product up and running. What I need now is hard cash to develop and nurture it over the next 12-18 months.
    In your experience of the industry, do you know of anyone who might be interested in a slightly longer play?
    Once again, apologies for hijacking the comments facility,
    regards
    Nick