Networks and Outlets

The social networking doors are closed. The finalists have been announced with Google+ walking into the room and closing the door on everyone on the outside. In the finalists room are a handful of networks that encompass everything that we could possibly need from a networking perspective. It’s time for the industry to focus on building on these networks. It’s time for more outlets.

What is a social outlet? If the networks connect us, the outlets give us the content we need to share with our connections. We’ll look at those shortly, but first, let’s see who is in the finalists’ room.

The Social Networks

Social Networks

There are five. Many would argue that niche networks and personalized ones such as Ning are still valid. Others will wonder about Bebo, Orkut, Friendster, and other networks that are big outside of the US. Some will say that the new owners of MySpace still might try to dive back into the social networking rat race.

They’d all be wrong. There’s only five. The rest are pretenders.

Friends and Family Networks – Facebook and Google+

There will be no other contenders in this field for a long time. It’s similar to the cold war era – there were only 2 superpowers and everyone else aligned with one or the other. The same this is happening in the battle over friends and family connections.

Social Discovery – Tagged

Of the networks listed here, Tagged is the only one you may not have seen before. It fills a need that the others fail at – social discovery. Where Facebook and Google+ are all about connecting you to people you know, Tagged is about connecting you to people you do not know. It qualifies for being “in the finalists’ room” for two reasons: it has over 100 million registered users and it’s profitable. Not many social media sites can make both claims.

Business Relations – LinkedIn

Looking for a job, an employee, a partner, or a client? LinkedIn has you covered. The site also recently broke 100 million users and with its recent IPO, the site has a bright future.

Social Sharing – Twitter

While Google+ and Facebook contend with their abilities to bring the world to us in real time, nobody does it better than Twitter. Whether you’re sharing what you had for lunch or pictures of a disaster that happened just outside your window, Twitter is the place for sharing.

The Social Outlets

Social Outlets

We have the venues through which to connect with people and share. We need no more. What we need are sites that specialize in exposing content for us to explore and share. This is where the social outlets come in.

Most have no use for them. Social networks offer plenty of content for many to read, see, listen to, or watch. It’s for those relative few who find or create content that we need social outlets.

Social news sites like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon are often the first place where content is discovered and exposed. From there, it is shared on the social networks, giving the world more things to tweet, share, and enjoy such as the rage comics.

Tumblr and Buzzfeed are communities that also expose content through a community setting. Many of the best pieces of content are first found on Tumblr, while Buzzfeed specializes in filtering the content for those who cannot spend hours at a time combing through the social news sites.

Content creation and innovation happens on sites like YouTube and Flickr. No explanation needed.

Foursquare is best described as a social network connector. Despite having its own internal community, most of the activity that happens on Foursquare happens on Facebook and Twitter. Still, they will be a way similar to Google Places for businesses to communicate with their mobile customers.

These are simply examples. There are literally thousands of valid options available to us and more are being built every day. More need to be built. It’s important to the future of social media.

Why We Need More Outlets

This cannot be stressed enough. We do not need more social networks. We do not need additional venues through which to share and connect. We have all we need. The niche social outlets are the key to keeping everything rolling properly.

Social outlets keep the content flowing. They expose blogs and mainstream news that fills the social networks with fresh reasons to visit. There will never be a ton of people focusing on the social outlets. StumbleUpon, for example, is very large relative to other social outlets, but Google+ is already bigger a month and a half after launching in beta. YouTube is huge, of course, but the content creators are few and far between compared to the actual number of visitors.

We need ways to discover more. Digg doesn’t fit for everyone with its slow style of presenting the news. Reddit is absolutely terrifying to new users. Flickr is very personal for many, but the it’s often hard to find the right content. Buzzfeed is limited. Tumblr is unlimited (almost too much so, it seems).

It comes down to diversity. There needs to be a more diverse set of valid ways to discover content. Sharing is easy. Finding the content is harder. Perhaps more importantly, social networks are not the best venue for high levels of thought. It’s not an insult, simply a fact. High-end thoughts may be shared on Facebook or Twitter, but for every intelligent tweet there are thousands of frivolous ones. For every profound Facebook status update, there are millions of people talking about their boring lives.

Charities have a place on social networks, but they have a challenge spreading their long-form messages without social outlets. Politicians are able to use Twitter for the snippets, but policies cannot be described or debated in 140 characters or less. Tagged can help us meet new people, but we can’t really get to know them as well as we could through a video or photo album to share on the site. LinkedIn is able to connect professionals, but what about everything else about them and their companies?

Social outlets make social networks more robust. It’s where new startups should focus. It’s where users who want to truly get engaged through social networks should be finding or posting content. It’s where diversity wins.

It’s where social media can sustain itself going forward.

Written by Rocco Penn
A tech blogger, social media analyst, and general promoter of all things positive in the world. "Bring it. I'm ready." Find me on Media Caffeine, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.