Not long ago David Beach made a tongue in cheek comment about MySpace that got me thinking about the future of social networking and the value it adds to our experience online. Specifically, that now EVERYONE is connected
Beach is right. Social Networks provide little value other than connecting peers and friends who would otherwise connect through traditional channels. They don’t really make it easier to remain friends or talk with people as much as they make it easier to keep in touch with people by maintaining that connection you might otherwise lose; you still have to write a note, post on a wall, ping a message, or in other ways reach out to your network. A few provide truly unique benefits; I’m a fan of LinkedIn for creating a professional network and encouraging career building and recruiting while LastFM is making headway with really social music (not MySpace Music). Therein lies the opportunity.
Yahoo!, MSN, & AOL are powerhouses of the internet because they provide various benefits through one experience. Yahoo’s audience typically uses Yahoo! mail, photos, search, autos, shopping, etc. But the portals fail to acknowledge the flight of their audience to better solutions which they can and should provide. They don’t connect these features and benefits or leverage their user base of millions to enhance those tools such that, for example, MSN Shopping is personalized to show printers because I was just reading about printers in Tech & Gadgets with the products appearing there sorted by popularity determined by my network of trusted peers. Of course, AOL was the most significant to fall for this evolution of the internet in that they failed to deliver the better experience Yahoo! provided; years later Yahoo! stumbled because of Google.
Social Networks are not portals, they provide no real value but they solve the issue of connectivity. Unfortunately for us, News Corp. acquired the 5th largest website MySpace leaving the largest network to languish with what it is; how can Fox extend that connectivity into their dozens of other separate web destinations?
An underlying benefit of the portal, of course, is the single account, the single login that allows me to sign in to Yahoo! and do just about everything I want to do online. A brilliant new startup Useless Account makes light of the login proliferation of 2006-2007 from which we all are now used to creating new logins every day for the latest new internet technology/service. How many usernames do you have? Yahoo!, MSN, Google, Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Technorati, Blogexplosion, Blogger, Friendster, Classmates, iTunes, Flickr, Digital Points Forum, Riffs, Gamespot, WordPress, Zillow, Wikipedia, Lala, Squidoo, Listable, Clipmarks, Rallypoint, LastFM, Etrade… Many have tried to create a standard unique login (MSN Passport and more recently, OpenID) that would work anywhere. So far, all have failed.
Imagine the merger of major social networks and the portals with which we depend on for most of our life online? Yahoo! has made progress with MyWeb and 360 but their silo’d business groups (properties of Yahoo!) prevent them from truly permeating those benefits throughout the network. Google remains focused on search; without even acknowledging that, even with their fragmented “portal-like” services such as gmail, Picasa, and maps they are still not a destination where people spend their day.
I for one relish the day when my time reading printer reviews on MSN Tech & Gadgets will be met with a personalized Shopping experience enhanced by my network of peers and friends who help recommend what I should buy.
By the way
Just yesterday, Om Malik shared similar thoughts about the commoditization of social networks and their need to extend the benefits of connectivity into entertainment. Check it out.