Social saturation

The talk below from Forrester CEO George Colony was perhaps the most interesting one I saw at Le Web last week.  He had two big points to make:

  1. Web service/application architectures will shift to more local processing and storage.  This is a natural result of the fact that processor and storage technologies are improving faster than networks. 
  2. Social networks are so well penetrated now that there is little room to grow – that includes penetration into the population and hours spent per day by the active users.

I want to focus on the second of these today.  Both have been bouncing round my mind since I saw the presentation on Thursday, but I think the second is more topical.  Firstly it was the subject of debate on Fred Wilson’s from yesterday, and secondly it is more pertinent to the activity of most of the readers of this blog – as entrepreneurs, investors and consumers.

My first reaction to the argument that social is close to saturation point made sense to me, and most of the people I spoke to about it at the conference afterwards agreed.  The reasoning is logical and comes from research Forrester conducted research with over 1m US consumers which found that ‘social is running out of hours and people’.  Taking the hours piece first – people are spending more time on social than they are volunteering, praying, emailing and using telephones, and more than they are exercising, and only a little bit less than shopping and childcare.  His argument is that people simply don’t have much more time to give to social.  The second piece of the argument is that at around 80% in the developed world social is already so well penetrated that growth can’t come from adding new users either.

Colony’s conclusion from this is not that social will go away, but that the next generation of social apps will be about doing things more efficiently and saving time.  That contrasts with many of the current crop of social apps where the use case is often killing time.

Fred Wilson posted the video below yesterday and invited debate in the comments of his post.  Many commenters were simply outright critical of Colony, but several drew the distinction between social as an app, which might be peaking, and social as a platform, which is only just getting started, and this I think probably hits the nail on the head.  Applications are where people spend time, platforms are where things happen.  There might not be much time left in the day for all of us to spend much more time in social apps, but we can all increase our engagement with social by using the platform components more – that means hitting more like buttons, sharing more generally, connecting more sites to Facebook and Twitter, and using social more to help discover online content and interact with the brands and companies we love.

This might have been what Colony meant when he said the next generation of social services will be about driving efficiency.


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