MySpace, Facebook, and the other large social networks need not worry. The small, niche social network sites that are popping up faster than poker rooms in the 90’s are not going to hurt the big boy’s bottom lines. They’re just going to draw more people by the end of the year because of one fact.
They’re just more useful than the big sites.
The appeal that brought millions to form profiles and make friends on MySpace and Facebook will have the opposite effect in 2008 an beyond. We built our MySpace page and started Facebooking because everyone else was doing it. As closed social sites begin to gain in popularity, they will appeal to people because NOT everyone else is doing it. Inclusion is easy on today’s internet. Being part of something exclusive is becoming the new IT thing to do.
Ning and other emerging websites offer places for people to “give everyone the opportunity to create your own social networks for anything.” Here are some of the more popular emerging themes for these closed social niche networks:
Age-Based Social Networks
There are social networks popping up for everyone from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds. Websites like Boomj (social network for baby boomer), Whyville (“a virtual world where boys and girls from all over the real world come to chat, play, learn, and have fun together”), and Eons (“loving life on the flipside of 50”) are making it possible for people in particular age groups to interact with each other.
The appeal here is obvious. Age gives people an instant point of reference where they know that, no matter what else is different, they have something in common. Exploring these websites reveals that the members seem to be more open, willing to reveal more about themselves than they would on general social networking websites.
Local Social Networks
Quick story: a friend was at a party the other day and really hit it off with a girl he met there. They talked, laughed, drank… all was going well. As the night drew to a close, he asked for her phone number. She hesitated, saying that she didn’t really give her phone number out to people that she just met. Then, she took a card out and wrote something down.
It was her MySpace page.
She said they could get to know each other better that way first. He was disappointed, but it was better than nothing.
Social networks like Tribe and GoingOn to localize their networks and give the audience places to find local focus. While MySpace and Facebook have similar interfaces, it’s impossible to separate yourself into the closed networks, as the bulk of friends and members will still be crossing over to other general areas.
Social networks with local membership and flare are becoming more and more prominent, especially with dating. Being social with people you can never meet based upon proximity is one thing. Having them available within your city is something completely different. Local social networks act as that buffer zone where people can interact and get to know each other without having to meet for drinks or talk on the phone. In 2008, there will be multiple large social networks in every major city. Expect to start hearing radio ads and even a few television spots pop up.
Professional Social Networks
The car business, which is notoriously a year or two behind the times when it comes to the internet, has a few social networks for car dealers popping up. The presence of Automotive Social Networks is either a sign of the end of the world or an example of how any, ANY, profession can find itself with a social network specific to its profession.
Getting advice, networking, sharing experiences — we are professionally based individuals who revolve around our jobs. Few are willing to admit it, but it’s true. Having a place with like-minded people makes it easier to cope sometimes. That’s the appeal to social networks by profession.
Interest Social Networks
Forums fade. They pop back up, then they fade again. Slowly, they will be integrated into social networks that offer more interaction beyond the forums themselves.
Gaming, for example, has dozens of emerging social networks. Gaming Social Networks like Great Games Experiments offer networks within the networks to allow gamers to become even more specific about their wins and conquests.
What makes 2008 the year that Niche Social Networks will emerge? The answer has 2 parts: Money and simplicity.
With the Facebook Beacon debacle and other outcries for less user data being used for marketing, it makes sense to target networks where the advertisers already know they’ve got the right audience. Hyper-targeted marketing will continue to emerge, but for now, closed social networks make it much less controversial.
The simplicity aspect is even more important. It is simple from every angle – simple for members to find the answers and networking they need, and simple for developers to make the sites and promote them with very little investment. Google’s Open Social and several other applications will make it very easy for these types of networks to get started and grow.
For more information, read a previous post on this blog about Niche Social Networking.