Is the Social Network Bubble About to Burst?

It seems like once a month I’m invited to a hip, new social network, poised as the anti-Facebook. Out of curiosity, I tend to join (ironically, about half the time, logging in through Facebook Connect). Each one of these networks has its own niche. There’s Ping for music, Path for photos and Quora for questions. But what additional value does each of these networks bring? When will the fragmentation become so great that the market begins to reject the idea of new social networks?

Let’s explore three key ingredients to the success of a social network:

  • Social Glue – A network has to have commonality among its users, a unique draw to engage its audience coming back for more. This is actually what many of the niche social networks are attempting to create. Facebook’s draw, on the other hand, is derived from ubiquity.
  • Ease of Use – I’ll gloss over this one because I’ve rarely come across a social network that wasn’t intuitive to use.
  • Adoption Inertia – For a social network to become a mainstay it has to get over the adoption hump. This is a chicken or the egg scenario in which users won’t join unless their friends have joined but their friends won’t have joined unless their friends have joined (you get the endless circle here).

How many social networks out there have mastered the last ingredient? There may be dozens of well-built, well-intentioned social networks but without the interest by potential users, the market is beginning to become saturated. Instead of creating the next big thing, developers are creating a lot of noise in the marketplace to the point where consumers may simply begin to tune out. When that happens, I predict many will stick with what they’re used to, Facebook, and the new networks will fail to gain traction.

What do you think? Will additional social networks continue to bloom? Can the market stomach every new idea that comes out? What will prevail in the end, the all-inclusive social network or the niche-specific one?

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9 thoughts on “Is the Social Network Bubble About to Burst?

  1. The title of this is wrong — you’re supposed to write “Social Networking is Dead” or something like that. “Bubble about to burst” analogies are passe although searching for “bubble burst” and “is dead” as phrases on Google would tell the tale…

  2. I agree that people have “social” network fatigue, but facebook isn’t immune to that. I think that over time, people will care to spend more time with nutritious, interesting content that relates to their interests, not merely to spend their time voyeuristically and channeling their narcissism.

  3. I’ve tried a few social networking sites but most seem too narrow. Not all my friends/contacts have the same interests, so not so many participants. Plus, it’s just too hard to keep up with more than the three I’m on (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.)
    I disagree with Ash, though. There will always be room for voyeurism and narcissim!

  4. Dennis, I can see your point about the title. Cliches aside, I would argue that Social Networking is thriving right now but growing to the point of no return. I think there is still room to grow but at some point will the ecosystem implode leaving just the dominant players? Or maybe the dominant players will become a distant memory (as we’re already seeing with Myspace) and something better is on the horizon.

  5. Ash, I agree that Facebook isn’t immune to fatigue, but I wonder if the role of Facebook will shift over time from that of a social network to a greater social aggregator. Sometimes I feel like the direction they’re moving in with single sign-on mobile and the Facebook Connect platform that they’re trying to push Facebook to be an Operating System for the Web instead of a place to chat with and/or spy on your friends.

  6. I tend to agree with you Richard. I think in the end people will probably stick with what they know and what has worked for them. There are only so many hours in a day so we can only be active in a limited number of networks.

  7. The entire Middle East is in a revolutiont largely driven by social media. Social media is alive and well, it’s just copycat social media networks that are going nowhere.

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