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The expanding world of social networking

The world of social networking continues to evolve rapidly. From Facebook, described as “the most profound Internet innovation since eBay” by Fortune Magazine author Brent Schlender; to the internal social networks Business Week recently called the web water coolers (“The Water Cooler is Now on The Web”); to the addition of social networking features at mainstream sites, social networks are growing in importance for consumers and businesses alike.

This article brings you up to date on some of the evolution in social networking sites (SNS) since the coverage I gave this topic in my December article “Virtual communities make online connections.”

College students aren't the only ones that think Facebook is “really hot,” with Microsoft reportedly in discussions with the company to take a 5 percent minority for an investment of $300 to $500 million, an interest valuing the total company at close to $10 billion , according to MSNBC. Beyond Microsoft, entrepreneurial software developers have jumped on the Facebook phenomenon - 70,000 developers have already signed up with the company to develop site applications , according to The Wall Street Journal.

These applications will enhance profile pages, allow user content sharing, improve user utility, and generate revenues for both the creators and Facebook. Reuters reported that since Facebook opened up its site to outside developers more than four months ago, 4,000 applications have been created and their count of active users has jumped 70 percent to 41 million. With over 50 percent of Facebook users now being non-students and Facebook's opening of its site to outside applications, the site still has great potential for growth.

So what is happening with social networking beyond Facebook and MySpace? Developers, marketers, and corporations all are jumping on the social network wagon through a wide range of activities. They are developing niche sites focusing on narrow demographics, interest groups, and business networking. Corporations are also tapping into internal and stakeholder social networks to capture their wisdom and encourage greater collaboration.
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Marketers are exploring how they can use social networks for advertising and to build customer relationships by interacting with customers while monitoring, capturing, and interpreting customer and market information. Owners of popular web content and commerce destinations are adding social networking features to their sites to capture some of the mindshare that they've been losing to the highly ranked MySpace, Facebook, and other leading SNS.

Niche SNS

In my December article, I linked to quite a few different SNS. This listing adds some additional niche SNS that you might find interesting, illustrating how fine grained and targeted these communities have become:

• Demographic-oriented SNS

• Age - Multiply, people who are settled; Boomj, generation jones (1950s and '60s), and baby boomers; Rezoom.

• Country of Origin - Silicon India, Indians worldwide.

• Gender - CafeMom and MothersClick, for mothers; Sister Woman, and women friends.

• Occupation - ModelsHotel, models worldwide; FanLib, fiction writers and those interested in entertainment; AdGabber, advertising, marketing, and communications professionals; TheFeng.org, financial services executives; MilitarySpot, military families; Sermo, physicians.

• Health and Wellness - DietTv, PeerTrainer, Calorie-Count.

• Business and Career Networks - ConnectBuzz, Doostang, Execunet, LinkedIn, Netshare, Ryze, Viadeo, and Xing.

• Interest - TradeKing, investors; StreetCred, hip hop lovers; IndiePublic, independent art and design community.

For a directory of even more social networking sites, see this user-updated database.

Enterprise 2.0 - Corporate or private social networks

Another accelerating trend, according to Business Week, is the growth of in-house social networks. Large multi-national corporations are seeking to capture the “wisdom of crowds” and to encourage employees, alumni, retirees, and other stakeholders to interact with one another. Among the companies that are creating these networks are Ning, Visible Path, Mentor Scout, Web Crossing, and Select Minds. SelectMinds is reported to have created “networks for 60 companies, including Lockheed Martin and JPMorgan Chase.”

Their web site reports that they have modules targeting alumni, women employees, interns, new hires, retirees, and employees. Not to be left behind, Microsoft offers rapidly growing SharePoint that provides utilities of a social network. IBM has a product called Lotus Connections that also offers some of this functionality according to Business Week.

Commerce and information site social networks

Commerce and communications destination sites are adding social networking features to connect with their customers and build connections between their customers. For example, eBay is adding neighborhoods, where collectors with a like-minded interest will be able to interact. These features are being created both through their own development teams, adoption of private label features from the major SNS, or through purchase of services from private-label site developers.

What does this mean for business?

It all depends on your frame of reference. If you're a business professional, it makes sense for you to explore the vertical and horizontal networks that could offer you access to career advancement or business development networking. If you are a business entrepreneur, social networks can help you investigate your target audiences and contribute to the conversation about your specific product or service. If you have a clearly defined and unserved target market, there could be a place for a niche SNS to connect and serve your audience. If you're a major enterprise, there are opportunities for private corporate networks.

Future of social networks

The danger on the horizon from the ever expanding and splintering social network phenomena is that it could be reaching the stage where users are experiencing “social networking fatigue.” How many general or niche sites are you willing to register with or are you willing to interact with?

Never fear, entrepreneurs are looking at this too, with people search engine sites like PeekYou, Spock, Rapleaf, and Wink that promise to go one step beyond SNS. According to Heather Green at Business Week, these sites are crawling the web to aggregate information about individuals from social networking sites, photo sharing sites, video sharing sites, blogs, etc. This aggregated data offers the potential for expanded social networks as potential matches are identified. The scary part of these “people search engines” is that they also might damage an individual's reputation if incorrect or private personal data is compiled.

In addition, as this personal information mined off the web is sold to others, the potential for damage is even greater. Stay tuned for more in the world of SNS and people search engines.

Previous articles by Paul Gibler

Paul Gibler: Business would be wise to note the resurrection of online ads

Paul Gibler: 583 reasons to wonder: Is e-mail dead or alive?

Paul Gibler: Online retailing "tango" is adding some steps

Outflanking the Google, Yahoo, MSN juggernaut

Paul Gibler: On the case: Web lessons for connecting with customers

Paul Gibler: Brand protection in the age of customer engagement

Wireless wizardry coming to the small screen

Paul Gibler: Podcasts - time, place, and player shifted media

Paul Gibler: Virtual communities make online connections

Paul Gibler: Lights, cameras, action: The state of online video

Paul Gibler: Joining the wiki wacki world

Paul Gibler: Would you like your music (and data) mashed?

Paul Gibler: Cutting through the blog fog

Paul Gibler: No RSS feed? You're fired!

Paul Gibler: Social computing in the Web 2.0 era

Paul J. Gibler, “the Web Chef” is principal consultant for ConnectingDots (http://www.connectingdots.com), an e-business and marketing strategic consulting and training company. Paul speaks on e-marketing and writes two blogs - e-Bytes and PPT - Powerful Presentation Techniques. He can be reached at pgibler@connectingdots.com.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.

WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

Comments

Sherry Heyl responded 6 years ago: #1

Thanks! This is one of the best in-depth yet simplified explanations of these trends that I have read.

Hekyll Jekyll responded 6 years ago: #2

"People search engines” scare the hell out of me. They are a stalker's dream. They aren't gathering this information for fun, but to make money off my name. Don't I have the right to my personal information anymore? If my name is linked on their sites to my e-mail (already done, I've checked it out), then OF COURSE it will be sold to others. How else would they make any money?

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