I have been using the Flock 1.0 beta for a few days now and the People Sidebar feature has really got me hooked. The product is well hyped (Techcrunch 40 winner) and has lots of great features (review) – but the People Sidebar could have a significance which goes beyond this latest skirmish in the browser wars.
Through tight integration with social media services the People Sidebar gives you an aggregated view of your network across the different services that you use. The picture below shows the top 3-4 people across my Twitter and Facebook networks.
This reduces the importance of having all my friends on the same network. It may even eliminate it.
As Facebook sweeps all before it people are struggling with compartmentalising their identity. It is problematic when your boss can see the side of you that is designed for your friends, or family. One solution to this problem is for Facebook et al to add features which allow you to show different parts of your personality to different friends – e.g. different groups can see different photos or status updates only go out to the portion of your network that you want to see them.
Flock is now giving us a glimpse of an alternative future. Instead of having your whole network in the same service and using tools within that network to compartmentalise your identity, you can leave the different parts of your network in the services that are most appropriate for them and manage them through an aggregator service in your browser.
This has profound implications for the value of social networks. If the approach Flock is pioneering wins out (and it is very early days yet, both in terms of number of services integrated and functionality available at the aggregate level) then I think we will see a world where there are multiple large social networks. Today it looks like there will only be space for one or two.