Too many social networks

How many social networks are there? Wikipedia’s list is just a small example and it’s far from being exhaustive, yet it’s a good starting point to understand how the social world is overcrowded in terms of proposals.

They range from giant generalist sites (Facebook, Twitter) to local or community-related ones (AsianAvenue, Biip.no), and again to platforms dedicated to single topics (Busuu, Buzznet, GovLopp, Playfire etc.). The range is huge, very diverse, and packe with clones: think for example the vig amount of places where you can share pictures, as noted by David Roccato: Flickr, 500px, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Streamzoo, EyeEm, Tadaa, Hipster , WeHeartPics, Stampzz, Pixable, Piictu, Cinemagram, Pictarine, Loopcam, Flixel, Pic…

How to choose? Where to stay? And it makes sense to create new ones?

One of the typical mistakes of novice marketers – and not only them – is to sign up anyywhere, because “you have to be there”, and you think that every open channel will automatically improve one’s reputation on the web (or at least, will increase visibility).

But this simple casual correlation doesn’t hold. While online you can manage ubiquity quite easily, you should also consider that the presence on each platform must be authentic and real – just like in the physical reality of every day: if you decide to hang around with a group of people, you can’t pop up once in a while only to say hello. On the contrary, you have to engage actively: chat, share, feed the exchange of information and thoughts.

A too brisk or superficial use of these media leads instead to a dangerous fragmentation of your content (and attention): there is an obvious limit to social availability, and we must not forget that “to manage x profiles” actually means “to manage x places of conversation”. The only valid truth approach here is trye engagement, not an obsessive care of “the numbers”.

From this point of view, although the theme “too many social networks” has been already widely discussed, we keep underestimating a key point – probably because the perception of these spacese is still too “virtual”: as if their essence was very different and distant from what drives us to join a group and stay with other people in our daily, offline life.

After all, we’re on a social network for four major reasons: because there are people we already know; to interact with new ones; because we are interested in a specific topic of the platform; and because of word of mouth. To think of these tools as a mere systems to transmit or amplify content means mistaking their significance, their intimate interpersonal nature.

When someone wants to be active in the social media means then they are inviting unknown friends deliberately. So, if you are interested to be active then naturally communication is activated and automatically all the personal information is transmitted across the globe. Even though you want to be silent viewer but that is not impossible. So, you are ready to share your profile, photos and other important information across. The decision is taken individually and does not have any influence. See this here and you will get a better idea.

We can therefore say that our active participation (not the simple registration) on a social network is determined by the chance to interact with an indefinitely unlimited audience, although sometimes that starts from a base of prior knowledge (“I go there because I’ve been told by a friend who uses it”). It’s definition that requires some refinement, sure, but it can be a good starting point.

To go where? Simply put: Diaspora’s fail and Unthink’s death are no accidents, but symptoms of a larger problem: maybe “to kill Facebook” is impossible. Or at least, it’s a challenge that must be re-thought in very different terms.

Even App.net, Dalton Caldwell’s ad-free platform that ensures a real management of one’s own data for $36 a year, shares the same problem. This is undoubtedly a revolutionary model in terms of sustainable business, but it still doesn’t answer the fundamental question: why should I move from Facebook to be there?

A not very literate user is fine (unfortunately, you can add) to sell his information for a free service. The only added value to move to App.net is that of privacy. But in return you have to give not only money: you also have to upset all the relationships that have grown on Facebook over time.

So if we want to “kill Facebook” we need to provide a better answer to that question, before we create a free and beautifully designed environment: the risk is to be left with an amazing living room, but half-empty.

This is because the displacement of a large part of one’s digital identity involves a kind of “removal stress” comparable to that of a big shift in physical reality: we don’t just leave an old home for a new one (which is maybe even better), we also leave a neighborhood of habits, contacts, friendships. The hope is that they will move with us – and this would be a defining moment in the history of the web: a mass migration, just as Diaspora imagined. But it seems very unrealistic, at least up to now.

Summing up: in my opinion, the very idea of ​​”kill Facebook” is probably fallacious, however noble. Putting all your resources and insipration to build a generalist social network is very risky. The period of great adoption of these channels is substantially off: what’s still open are interesting niches (topic-oriented platforms) and hybrids (see the brilliant success of Pinterest). The same Myspace, a former king of generalist networks, has had to reinvent itself and walk a slightly different path.

In such cases social media fragmentation, although somehow inevitable, appears to be justified: exactly as in everyday life we mix with different groups of people driven by different interests (but with the same curiosity and passion), so we do on the web.

This is also an implicit suggestion to startuppers: to continue copying ideas or to launch yet another, so cool social environment to share this or that is a losing strategy, if you don’t have a really strong idea behind it.

 

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