The Rise of Social Networking

A couple weeks ago, a colleague sent me an essay published by Danah Boyd on the evolution of social networking technologies or online communities. The thought-provoking essay is worth a read, or the short-version blog post is here.

The essay is comprehensive and, in my opinion, provides for a wonderful background on how Friendster and MySpace have evolved differently. And, personally, I think that Friendster is far from dead and MySpace is far from being the clear winner.

Legislation is this category would be supremely ridiculous and impossible to enforce. If that's something that ever comes out of this country's government, then we might as well all move to China where things wouldn't be any different but at least there would be even more opportunity.

If I have to add something to Danah's train of thought it would be the following:
Social clubs or cliques very much do exist in the real world. And, there are countless forms of these different groups or organizations. Are MySpace or Friendster the only two online social networks that will survive with any mass following? Absolutely not. People have different interests and different expectations. Is it reasonable to think that 'everyone' wants to 'hang-out' in the rave-like online environment. Where are the 'jocks' or 'geeks' going to play? Did we not all watch The Breakfast Club? Not everyone has to or wants to hang out in the same place.

This past thought made a big assumption, which I'm not totally certain of yet, that people are willing to find a place to 'hang out' online. At the end of the day, there is very little to do on these sites that cannot be done on the broader internet other than accumulating (linking to) friends. For all we know, social networks such as Friendster or MySpace may be fads that are novel because of the technology they ride on.

Think about what online social networks might look like ten years from now, when those 18-22 year olds today are 28-32 years old. Do we really think that they will still be 'hanging out' in the same MySpace environment they do today? Or, rather do we think that there will be some form of a 'country club-like' social network for 40+ year olds? Do we think those 32 year olds will be spending their weekends 'hanging out' at the online version of the Home Depot weekend destination? What's the point?

If we believe in the defensibility, sustainability, and diversification of online social networks, then we're most likely to see social networks arise that cater to the older generations who are less fickle and have more purchasing power. For those generations, I question whether their social network won't just be the broader internet... Blogs, to a certain extent, are a form of 'open internet' social networking.
Is it really possible to successfully fragment the internet in to sub-groups over the long-term? Is that really going to happen? After all, the internet was built on such great fundamental principles as openness, portability, standardization, etc. What's next?
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