Social Software

On a frustration with pundits and social networking tools…

I have to say, I’m vaguely appalled by the way that some people have become so obsessed by social networking services. Business 2.0 is the most recent drunken advocate to go all giddy about them, describing them as “technology of the year” (according to Many to Many). It’s like social software all over again – a vaguely useful concept/service with relatively intriguing possibilities emerges and gestures in roughly the right direction and all the pundits get caught up in the immediacy – the nowness of the thing rather than looking at the past (the millions of mailing lists, message-boards, instant messenger accounts, the bulletin boards, the MUDs and MOOs) or the possible futures that actually start hybridising these bits of technology together in more interesting and useful ways. And before anyone starts – yes, I know, it happened with weblogs too… And just like weblogs social networking tools are genuinely interesting and useful, just not in the trivial, money-grabbing, tedious, company-based and inflated way that many of these pundits / press seem to think.

Let me say this one more time. Friendster is interesting! Friendster is cool! Ryze is interesting! Ryze is even vaguely useful! But the functionality that these sites are based around has to be a component of something larger. The social-networking chunk will either go open-source, API or it’ll just start being built into other types of community site. The sites that exist at the moment only have value because of the volume of people who have registered on them – without that volume they’re the social software equivalent of the world’s most successful, well-executed and powerful login page or ‘shopping basket’ metaphor. It’ll all change when/if someone like Google buys them (there’s not really a whole lot of room for lots of these operating concurrently if all they do is connect people together in the way they’re doing at the moment, but connect it with something else…) but in the meantime technology of the year?! Are they mad?! Flashback twenty years – I think they’d have said the same bloody thing about the Rubik’s Cube…

4 replies on “On a frustration with pundits and social networking tools…”

Well, they did write “technology of the year”, not “technology of the years to come”… the Rubik’s cube might well qualify as “technology of the year” 1980.

During the last bubble lots of companies “succeeded” by getting bought by AOL, Yahoo, or Microsoft. Just think of these startups as outsourced R&D, following the Cisco model. So, given that these things will become lots more useful when integrated into other services run by the big guys, and there is (potentially) some interesting social network analysis stuff, etc., calling it meaningful tech doesn’t seem totally out of line…
(Interesting side-thought: does thinking about which of those big-3 (4 counting Google) will buy a given social net service change your willingness to start pouring data into it? Not that it does you any good, since you can’t guess how it will turn out…)

On the last comment, I would say that a lucrative acquisition is not applicable. None of the existing sites have actually developed any new technologies yet- with the exception of and it is not really a social-networking site. Even the infamous six degress of separation patent is unlikely to stand up in a court if push comes to shove. If a site has millions of dedicated users, then yes it has value because of the users, but I do not think any social networking sites is in that position. The difference will come when a site integrates all the social aspects people want (blogging, picture galleries, IM, browsing, not being bugged by the wrong people) into one glamourous hub. Whether that becomes a reality depends on whether that social network has a business model that does not depend on dating, messaging or advertising (or even a combination of these). But I think there is a great business model that is being overlooked.

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