Craig Hodges

Social Networks: The Acceleration of Splintering Networks

When and where Facebook groups and Facebook applications cannot, or do not, provide the functionality or sophistication for 'it', increasingly we will see new online social networks will splinter off and create their own communities. Fewer and fewer obstacles now stand in their way to do so and do so well.

That unfulfilled ‘it' has become the default foundation of new Web 2.0 communities the world over. Here you will find digitally savvy individuals are both, forming and joining, a new wave of thriving online social networks based around a combination of shared specialised interests, powerful content sharing tools relevant to those interests (photography, music, literature, books etc) and increasingly, more evolved and tailored search and communication tools with greater functionality. And wow, when you discover it, you realise that's a significant step up.

 

Under these conditions Facebook and its ilk, all of a sudden, to those ‘in the know', looks decidedly more like a model T Ford everyday. Examples you cry? Well, compare it to the likes of matadortravel.com, and its appeal and range of tailored offerings to the passionate travel community, or to care2.com and its appeal to the compassionate activists out there, those who want to help strangers, not just poke them.

 

More adroit than most suspect, the big guns at Facebook not only know about this phenomenon, but some time ago predicted it, and hence the drive and central importance of Facebook David Morin's successful launch of ‘Facebook Connect'.

 

The lesson here? If you are thinking of forming your own Web 2.0 network, do yourself a favour, and do some homework on this one. Incorporating ‘Facebook Connect' may well boost your fledgling online network membership substantially in a shorter space of time than you predict, providing that all else is sound with your online social network planning and your offering to your target audience.

 

So what's evolving here? At the moment is looking decidedly hub and spoke-ish to me. The active digital community continues to grow, with it more and more people are ‘devoted to', or at least ‘resigned to' the idea of using at least one of the major online social networks; a Facebook, a MySpace or a Bebo.

 

It has been said again and again, but their reach is now too powerful to ignore. The critical mass is now frightening people NOT involved. It's a fear of being left out, not the fear of one's privacy being jeopardised. Not sure, but have you started to notice how face-to-face (ironic choice of words) peer pressure is now seemingly leading to the vacuuming up the last few standing stalwarts who haven't joined an online social network? I am no techno-defeatist/fatalist, but it's true and hard to refute, amazing networking opportunities are still being realised on a frequent basis for the majority of users owing to the shear scale of these sites.

 

At the same time however, a growing number of users are sneaking off, dabbling, experimenting and investing time in what could be best described as ‘satellite networks'. Don't get it wrong. These are not all copycat sites, some are much more than that, they are ‘gap fillers', or ‘splinter groups' that are proving to be more responsive to the needs and interests of newly emerging (self-defining) communities.

 

What they lack in size, the newly emerging front runners are offering in techno-wizardry delivered in the form of new functionality that is cleverly married to responsiveness to member's needs and creativity.

 

Yes they are far more responsive than Facebook or MySpace and their frustrated developers ever could be. Here I say ‘frustrated', because I don't think these big open platforms are doing enough to get quality applications in front of the people who would benefit from using them most. Whilst related, that's another entire issue that needs to be hammered out soon for the big guns. It ain't been solved yet.

 

Back to splinter networks. And here's the big one, the positive point of differentiation. They are often inhabited by specialists, members with specialist skills, decision-making power and importantly - vision. The amateur to specialist ratio is generally lower, and engagement and interaction within these communities is generally more purposeful, creative and sophisticated.

 

They are ‘intentional communities' rather than communities that now appear to be forming and growing along the lines reminiscent of the dynamics of mass-movements of yesteryear. These are showing early signs of being future communities of substance.

 

Go see for yourself. Facebook isn't ‘Big Brother'; we've all still got passes out, haven't we?

 


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