FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, June 03, 2005

Is Social Networking a Passing Fad?

CNET columnist Molly Wood speculates that social networking as a business venture may be failing, judging by the number of prominent services that appear to be in trouble. Most notably is Friendster, which is seeing a high-level management shakeup coupled with a shrinking user base.

Wood's theory is that the social networking services don't offer anything that e-mail and instant messaging can't provide, and that they are too high-maintenance for most users. Plus, there's the classic conundrum of trying to develop a sound business model out of an immature medium.

Perhaps using such services to meet strangers isn't the best application of social networking. Some more useful applications may emerge though the kinds of experiments that are regularly reported on blogs such as Smart Mobs and we make money not art, and by integrating it with GPS and other technologies.

USA Today, in fact, offers a rebuttal of sorts, reporting on how technology is actually reinvigorating communities and strengthening social ties. The article cites targeted uses for social networking technology, such as community associations, churches, school districts and volunteer groups. As Howard Rheingold, who is quoted in the article, notes, "You can't pick up the telephone and say, 'Connect me with someone else who has a kid with leukemia' "

Perhaps interest-specific networks will succeed more than general-purpose networks. After all, the odds are better that you'll meet interesting people in a small group with similar interests than in a large, unstructured crowd.