Social Networking Evolution : Vertical or Horizontal?
Although social networking is all the rage today and seems quite new, it’s existed in rudimentary forms from the very beginning of network access with a 300 baud modem -from The Well, to GeoCities, to Friendster, and of course today the ubiquitous MySpace and Facebook. All of these”social networks” are horizontal -that is to say that anyone can (and does) join. Discussions, topics and content are free-ranging. But is a community of 30+ million people a”community” at all? If we look at the evolution of other media, we see a pattern of segmentation and specialization. Is that the direction social networking will go?Newspapers were (and mostly still are) general interest publications. But the Internet has dramatically affected them with sites targeted at specialized content (TMZ, ESPN, Drudge, Marketwatch, TechCrunch) picking off the general interest population and leading to steady circulation declines in traditional newspapers. Similarly, magazines started off as general interest (Look, Life, Saturday Evening Post, etc) -but where are general interest magazines today? Swamped with special interest publications (People, Car and Driver, Golf, Travel&Leisure, etc) and focused web sites. Network television is also decreasing in viewership as more satellite/cable special interest channels are available to more people.So will the general social networking sites be marginalized by vertical social networks? There are starting to be more and more vertical social networking sites -early vertical sites have tended to be organized by profession (linkedin, military.com, policelink, techcommunity, etc) as the lead-generation business model for such sites is well-developed. With the growth of tools for creating specialized social networking sites becoming more readily available (Ning, Cisco Eos) -we’ll be seeing more and more vertical social networks -and my guess is that horizontal social networks will be fewer in number and experience a plateau in growth, if not an eventual decline.KW