Locked in by Your Friends

Any asocial web app (e.g. Yahoo Search) lives in an entirely different market than the social kind. This market, where users can leave for greener pastures without any cost to themselves, is a breeding ground for healthy competition. When google started returning better results people could just leave Yahoo. They didn't have to convince their friends to come with them (even though they did). But if orkut, hi5, friendster, or any other fledgling social network makes a better experience nobody will really care. Are any of your friends on hi5? Had you ever heard of hi5 before?

If you wanted to move could you get all your friends to move with you? Do you want to upload all your photos again? This is why you still only hear about myspace and facebook, and will continue to only hear about myspace and facebook. It's nothing more than a two-player oligopoly which has accurately surmised this fact and split up the market along demographics. From this portioning of the demographics you, the individual, really has zero choice.

The lack of choice in social networks is probably not news to any of you, but what you might not be aware of* is that the Current Big Thing in social networks are social apps. It's web 2.0 built on top of your social grid. Play scrabble and compare scores with your friends. Adopt a pet and show it off. There are thousands of these apps being used by millions of people. For the most part they all suck, but not because the developers suck. You can generally blame the ineffeciences of an oligopoly. You can blame Facebook and Myspace.

Myspace and Facebook both have development environments, they both suck, and neither of the companies really have any need to change. If you want to make a social web app you have one of two choices. The social networks aren't just locking in end-users, they're locking in the content providers.

Web 1.0 was a quality-based free-for-all. Web 2.0 was a land-grab.

* People I know aren't the kind of people that use social networking apps, it turns out.


Alice said...

You know what, this is one thing about FB that's completely ticked me off lately. I finally agreed to add an app. and uploaded the Family Tree. Well, it turns out that every time I want to look at it, update it, whatever, I have to leave FB and go to a totally different site. While the rest of my family members seem to have joined my enthusiasm for connecting with one another, we're all pretty annoyed that it's not more streamlined. Nor is there the ability to see the "tree"-show connections within relatives other than "sister-in-law" "sister" or "cousin."
Nor do I have the ability to see status updates on just my family tree. While I could create a group for us, that would defeat the purpose of having the app. and no one wants a group anyway.

Don't know if that's where you were going with this, but I will whole heartedly agree that the Web 2.0 aspect of FB SUCKS.

Ben said...

Family Tree apps have the potential to be a realization of part of social networking's real value -- keeping up with people who are important to you.

It's extra tricky that it's fundamentally hard because the underlying social graph is, well, a graph. Computer scientists have been working on good ways to search through graphs for decades.

Furthermore, the wave of apps you see now are the first fledglings to leap from the nest, hoping to figure out flight before hitting the ground.

It's still something of an early-adopter thing. Given time apps on the social networks will be totally sweet.