You know, having worked for a social networking startup (Bluepulse) made me spend a ton of time thinking about the purpose of social networking (SNW) itself. I had spent a lot of time on a bunch of different SNW sites, pretty much enjoying just the fun of looking at them, at how they tried to solve a problem, trying to get to the bigger picture.
Of course, it all started with Friendster, the grandmother of SNW. We all joined back in the day, and we had find exploring the possibilities of interacting with friends of friends, getting introduced to them. Friendster showed us that we were connected with people in ways we didn’t understand, and that those who we may have thought strangers were actually just a party away from us.
Then, of course, the Great Friendster Debacle happened: the site crawled down to a standstill, and little by little its usefulness went to the wayside. I mean, it would take a minute or two just to navigate from any page to the next – you’d think at that point nobody would use it any more, and that’s exactly what happened to me.
The next Big Thing in SNW was LinkedIn. It was pretty much the same concept, just applied to the work environment. LinkedIn had wonderful technology and saw a lot of the features of SNW standard (like importing friends from other networks) implemented first. It was a joy to reconnect to old colleagues, and it was great to have professional updates on how things went after you left a company.
LinkedIn was of limited usefulness, since it applied only to the work environment. Additionally, it seemed that product management there didn’t quite understand SNW, and a lot of the interaction features you really wanted were sorely missing. LinkedIn became a site where interaction was infrequent, and mostly limited at brushing up on contacts before leaving a job – hence a good manager learned about an imminent departure by the amount of LinkedIn invitations sent by a disgruntled employee.
Mainstream SNW became a reality coming from a totally different angle: MySpace exploded unannounced from the media/music universe to connect millions. MySpace was great, allowed you to quickly create a SNW experience although it seemed to be primarily geared towards publishing of public web sites. Unfortunately, that bias was what made MySpace a joke in Internet circles at some point, since the one thing that stood out were the many, many spammy friend requests from “hot babes” you would constantly get.
The Juggernaut of Social Networking, though, is doubtlessly Facebook. Started by a young kid, Mark Zuckerberg, it was meant to be a web site for college student, or better said for kids that left college. Just a little like the early Internet was open only to non-commercial use (by universities and the military, mostly), Facebook was open only to users with a .edu email address.
From there, Facebook expanded to anyone, and is becoming more and more the site to reckon with and to measure against. Some of the positive developments that Facebook brought with it are:
- Constant feature expansion, for existing users and to allow new users in, as well
- Outstanding scalability, measured in outstanding responsiveness
- Modern features, including AJAX handling and excellent mobile presence
- Mindshare grabbing media and PR
- Understanding of privacy concerns and the role of spam in the destruction of social networking environments