Saturday, October 6, 2007

Social features, functions, relays and exclusivity

The Long Tail blog has a post up about social features. Chris Anderson mirrors my thoughts from last December about the differences between social features and social functions, the main point of his being that more sites across the board will adopt social features. The Long Tail post by way of a Micro Persuasion post that claims that the portals (Yahoo!, Google, MSN) will "win" the social networking wars. There, Steve Rubel makes that point that people might use social networking services, but they get there through trusted portal partners and will use those portal's services (email, IM, etc.) even more while using social networking sites. Back to Chris, who says that, "... focused sites that serve niche communities will extract the best lessons from Facebook and MySpace and offer better social networking tools to the communities they already have."

To a certain degree, I agree with them both. I do believe, like Steve, that all the traffic galloping through the big social sites will have positive impacts on the portals. We already know that much of Google's traffic comes from MySpace, for example. I also agree with Chris that many many more organizations will begin to build small, very vertical social applications that really tailor services to meet their needs and the needs of their clients' clients; I'm starting to think of this as "social relay" functionality. That is, can a social site provide not only for the group needs of its immediate members, but ways for them to then push out to their constituents? A good example is professional services (lawyers, accountants, architects, etc.). A social site that helps lawyers, for example, network and communicate in specific ways would be good. One that helped them then pass along appropriate social features to clients and posible clients would be better. Hmmm... I'm thinking that "social relay" needs a post of its own at some point...

Anyway... Chris and Steve both kinda make the point that you can take your social biz from MySpace to Facebook (as many kids do when they hit HS or college), so the social ties there may be kinda weak. Yup. I been sayin' that for awhile. Both MySpace and Facebook are collections of social features, predicated around basic, high-level social functions... but not around any one in particular. And when you base a service on a collection of lowest-common-denominator features... Gulp.

So the heart of the question becomes (I think), at what level do you embed "the wall?" To be social with some means being unsocial with others. Not in a mean way, but at the level of appropriateness to your community/ies. My writing buddies don't (necessarily) care about my marketing stuff, my game stuff, my work stuff, etc.

I'm already running into this on Facebook. I don't use it much, being a Child of Email. But I've begun having some weird moments of virtual fugue, when folks I know who aren't from work post stuff or ping me or poke me or put something on my wall or whatever. I signed up for Facebook through work, and at least 70% of my friends there are work/industry related. But a few kids from the college where I teach once a week have friended me, as have some buddies from previous work lives and some plain-ol' friend-friends.

Now, it's something I'm getting used to and, I assume, would not have any problems with if I used Facebook lots more. It would be like my home email where... hmmm... wait a sec. I mostly get email from friends and family at home. Some cross-over, but not much. And my virtual-social relationships r.e. games mostly take place on blogs and listservs. And my writing stuff happens (again, mostly) on a writing site.

There are lots of little plug-ins on MySpace and Facebook that let you do various, specific, fun or useful things. But they are "in Facebook" not "of Facebook." When the Web gets to the point where there are some easy, free "space creation" tools (I'm looking at you Google, and you Raph Koster), that allow for really generic plug-ins... will there be a need for Facebook and MySpace? I mean, you still need a host for the files (but the portals have that) and a unique moniker (again, the portals' got 'em)...

I think I'm beginning to really agree with Steve. I'm not sure, though, that the portals will "win" the social wars. I think that the rest of the Web will just become social enough that a specific place ain't needed. Maybe it will take 2 years, maybe 5, maybe 10. But if I can embed all the social features of MySpace or Facebook into my email/IM client (or into my group's web site)... there goes the need for a dedicated social provider.

What is Google doing with JotSpot anyway... 

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