A couple of weeks ago Alan Patrick wrote an interesting post on socnet usage patterns. Back in November in a post on the essence of social networks I wrote about the difference between object-centred socnets (e.g. Flickr, Delicious) and ego-centred socnets (e.g. Myspace, Facebook, bebo) and commented that:
most of the activity on ego-centred sites is about self expression, self investigation and building groups of friends. These are ‘burst of energy’ rather than ‘keep doing it for years’ activities and hence questions about the sustainability of the traffic and page views on these sites are legitimate.
Alan has taken the same thoughts and built a theoretical model of what that means for traffic on ego-centred sites. He writes:
Consider the chart below – of the 100% of time most people spend on any one social network, most is in the early days – setting up the friends, playing with the features etc – and then erodes over time. Below is a theoretical graph, showing an average halving of activity every 3 months over the 2 years average time that a person exists on a social network in any meaningful way. (Note – I don’t mean people necessarily leave after 2 years, just that activity – on average – is fairly low. You can make less extreme power laws if you like, but the result described below is much the same until a fairly low tailoff rate is assumed)
Now imagine how that curve works in a Social Network that grows from next to nothing to say 50m users over 4 years until growth tails off. As you can see, the traffic initially grows far faster than the new user growth, so its boomtime in impressionsville….but as growth starts to slow down those users’ reduced activity starts to kick in, and the great crash in usage traffic then kicks in (see below).
All of which means that the long term value of these sites is all about how low traffic goes in the tail on the right hand side of the first chart – i.e. what is the steady state sustainable activity. Alan commented on my recent post about niche social networks that there is likely to be more activity in the tail on niche sites (which is what we hope and believe with WAYN).
I would also say that as the major ego-centric socnets increasingly recast themselves as portals it will depend on the quality of the content they bring – be it music on Myspace, games and other apps on Facebook or TV on bebo. Further you have to consider the full user experience which goes beyond the quality of the content to include ease of discovery and the added benefits of consumption in a social setting.