Social Networking – Mid Course Assessment

Molly Wood at CNET says that "social networking doesn’t work".

That’s the headline, designed to get attention.

And it got mine.

She goes on to talk about the much covered struggles of Friendster and Orkut and lists the five big problems with social networking.

Molly is right that social networking was overhyped in early 2004 and is suffering a bit from the reality that hasn’t lived up to that hype.

Molly is also right that social networking takes too much time in its current incarnation.

And she leaves out an important criticisim that Charlie discussed earlier this week – the fact that everyone who has joined a bunch of social networks has way too many profiles to manage.

Mark Pincus, who founded one of the leading social networks, Tribe.net, has been talking about a bunch of these problems for a while now and his vision of the peopleweb addresses many of the shortcomings of social networking 1.0 that Molly outlines in the CNET piece.

But all that said, I totally disagree with Molly’s headline.  The past couple years have proven that social networking does work, particularly when its deployed as a feature of a web service that offers an important function beyond the social network itself.

Here are some examples:

Flickr – a photo site that is made much better through its social network
del.icio.us – a tagging service (that we are invested in) that is made much better through its social network
LinkedIn – a professional networking and resume database service that is made much better through its social network
Tribe – a classified advertising service that is made much better though its social network
Facebook – a college networking/dating service that is made much better through its social network

These are just a few examples.  I am sure all of you can provide many more and many better examples of social networking at work on the Internet.

Social networking is an important feature of the emerging web architecture of participation.  Web services that harness its power in ways that are highly relevant to the primary function of the service will enjoy a host of benefits from it.

Services that provide nothing more than a social network are likely to struggle.