By: Sam Huleatt
Social networking is a very hot topic among young professionals and college students because social networks are engaging and they are fun. Because of this, millions of young people subscribe to various networks such as Facebook or MySpace or Friendster. And because millions of young people subscribe to them, other thousands of people are trying to make money off the popularity of these networks. Simple.
However, for most fickle 20 somethings the ‘shelf life’ of a social network is inherently limited, unless the user receives some value that compels them to stay on the site. It’s sort of like the TV show, The O.C...great for a few seasons, but they tried to do too much too fast. In my opinion, the value traditionally associated with many current networks is evaporating; case in point is Facebook opening itself up to unrestricted registrations (See Michael Arrington’s notes on TechCrunch). Facebook has moved out of its niche officially, and I would agree with Fred Wilson’s Daughter, Jessica, who views this as a mistake. This leads to my first major point: there is a major difference between ‘purposeful social networks’ and ‘Walmart social networks.’
Now I will explain. Say I want to purchase something specific — let’s say a pair of running shoes. I am deciding where to buy my sneakers and I have two choices: I can buy them at Walmart, or I can buy them at a specific running shop (let’s also assume that both stores sell the exact same sneakers). Could I buy my shoes at Walmart? Sure, and the price may be better – but the experience is not and the final outcome is not. When you go to a running shoe-specific store, you go with a purpose. You know the employees understand the subject matter; you know that the other customers are likely fellow runners; you know that your outcome will not be a crap-shoot because you are getting intelligent information — even if you must pay a small premium for it. This is purposeful shopping. When you really know what you want, you go to the source.
The point is this: social networks like Facebook and MySpace are great, but at the same time they are too big to accomplish a specific purpose. If a guy is looking to meet a girl online, sending emails to random girls on MySpace will result in a much lower response rate than sending messages to random girls on Match.com. Position yourself for success.
The second point is that unlike the vision of ‘social networks 3.0‘ described by David Hornik, I think the next iteration of social networks will be multiple purposeful social networks all interacting on one common page. All your niche networks will be aggregated onto one page, similar to the technology behind Yodlee, as mentioned on MyMoneyBlog. Someone will soon create a Web 2.0 application that aggregates all your social networks onto one screen — you will receive updates and daily summaries for all your accounts right there. New friend request on MySpace, new messages at LinkedIn, a new blog post from your friend Sally on Friendster you see it all in real-time and you simply login to whichever network you feel like, right off that one page.
IntelliGrad’s social network does exactly that. We partner with colleges and universities — your network is limited to students and alumni of your school only. Since you get the registration information form Alumni Services at your college, you are guaranteed that everyone in the network is ‘legitimate.’ Is our social network smaller? Yes, definitely. Way smaller, and that’s the point. It is self-selecting. Thus, if you are looking for a job, or have questions about veterinary school — you know that your response rate is going to be much higher using IntelliGrad’s niche site than it would be if you located someone on MySpace and sent them an email.