2011 was the killer year for social interest sites

By January 5, 2012 2 Comments

2011 was an amazing year for social interest sites. Twitter started growing fast again after an extended flat period, Tumblr finally made it up into the stratosphere and new kid on the block Pinterest had an amazing second half to the year. The Comscore chart below shows traffic growth for all three, as well as the epic decline of Myspace.

Facebook isn’t on this chart, but they had a pretty good year as well.

I’m a big user of Twitter and Facebook and have a Tumblog that I still post to occasionally and my guess is that all these sites will continue to do well, as will WordPress and some of the other self expression platforms out there.

However, I think this market is getting difficult for any new entrants that are looking for something more than a quick flip.

Firstly, the incumbents now have, or are starting to have, real scale – at least in terms of users and access to capital – making it easy for them to copy successful features from new entrants and/or acquire them before they reach scale. You may have seen that Twitter and Facebook both made a string of acquisitions last year. For me the launch of Google+ was also an indication of the challenges for new entrants in this market – in spite of having a decent idea, un-paralleled distribution and incredibly deep pockets they have still only achieved moderate success (so far at least).

And secondly, as I’ve said, I’m persuaded by the arguments of Forrester CEO George Colony that we are approaching a point where consumers are maxing out on the time they can spend with social.  Other evidence of saturation can be found here and here.  If we are approaching social saturation then new social interest sites will have to grow by taking time away from existing services.  Facebook, Twitter, etc, succeeded in doing this to Myspace but I think the new crop of leaders have a better understanding of what they are doing and won’t be easily unseated.

I still think there is opportunity in social though – but it is about leveraging the data in these sites to do the other things we love in life – like shopping and going out.  That is where I see the next leg of growth.

The main thing I see that might upset these predictions is privacy.  An increasing number of people see the potential for a major privacy backlash that undermines Facebook and if that transpires there will be space for new services.  Personally I think it is unlikely – the true privacy risks seem small to me – but enough people are discussing it that it is worthy of note.

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