April 13, 2010
 

The Impending Demise of "General Admission" Social Networks

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By Clay Gordon

The widespread adoption of the new Open Social standard and use of third-party Social Networking apps written to it will come to be seen as the beginning of the downfall of general admission social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.

Have you been on Facebook lately? It seems that every new app that is developed wants to inform you of the most excruciating minutiae of the Facebook activities of its users. It's like a multimedia version of twitter and the e-mail equivalent of spam - but one whose tendency to annoy grows exponentially because of the network effect.

I used to get a couple of notifications a week about things that were happening to people in my Facebook friends list. Now I can expect to get as many as several dozens a day from an admittedly very small (about 30 people) list. Virtually all of these invitations to interact are automatically generated by each new Open Social app that any one of my "friends" installs.

Pretty soon the noise to signal ratio created by all those apps generating all those notifications will overwhelm the usability - and thus the utility - of the social network that hosts them.

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Of course I could refuse all invitations to install the apps my Facebook friends use but I don't think the average user will do that - as can be evidenced by the way people use MySpace - in part because shutting down communication is the antithesis of what a social network is all about. Instead, most will start using them (the general admission social networks) less as they get spammed more.

I got so annoyed with Facebook, even though I started and moderate a group, that I did what I think a lot of people will end up doing - which is to create my own special-interest social network where I can control the apps and widgets that are included as well as throttle the number and kinds of messages these apps litter member pages with.

My new social network has been open for only about two weeks and has already attracted more than 40 people (about twice the size of my group on Facebook). So far, members have posted blog entries and forum threads, uploaded photos and videos, commented on posts, and done all the things they expect to be able to do on social networks like Facebook.

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It took about 30 minutes to get the basic functionality in place to the point where I could start inviting a few close friends to kick the tires. I did add a third-party search engine widget and tuned it to the subject of my site (which is chocolate), in about 30 minutes. It happens to be a "mute" social networking app: the more my members use it, the better it will get at filtering out spurious results, but it doesn't broadcast any messages to users. I was also able to integrate a Google calendar in about 5 minutes once I understood what to do.

In the very near future, should things really start to grow as I think they will, I will pay Ning (the company that provides the social networking platform I am using) to use a domain name I own.

As a blogger with nearly seven years' experience in Internet publishing, I can tell you that it was a huge relief to move to this social networking platform and away from a blogging tool. While providing my input is an important regular activity, much of my time and effort is now spent as a mentor and educator rather than a reporter. My view is important in the sense that, as the network creator my voice is "louder" than anyone else's, but members of the network invite their friends to join and create new content on their own.

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There are important lessons to take hold of (if my suspicions are correct) as companies look to promote their businesses online:

1) Rethink the blog as the way to connect informally with your customers. Social networks are far more powerful.

2) Rethink the general admission social networks such as Facebook and MySpace as the primary places to do your social networking. By all means use them to promote your business, but remember that others will be looking to you to promote theirs. (How many "friend" requests have you received on MySpace from bands looking to promote their music?) Instead, use the general admission social networks to establish a basic presence and identity that is designed to drive interested people to your own special-interest social network where you can exert a far greater measure of control over what goes on.

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If you are interested, please visit me on discoverchocolate.ning.com. Please keep in mind that this is not a place to discuss the future of social networks, it's a place to share your interest in chocolate.

Clay Gordon is a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, published author, accomplished lecturer, gourmet cook, and co-inventor on four granted and one pending patent. Clay Gordon has been at or near the leading edge of several waves of new technologies since 1983. He became interested in chocolate professionally in 1994, and is now considered to be one of the world's leading independent thought leaders on the subject of chocolate.

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