The switched-on guys in our IT department got me thinking about something: when does it make sense to start your own social network?
In some cases, this is a no-brainer. Take the case of tagging. Allowing users to define a structure that is not hierarchical like categorizations (read folders) has been seen as an important sea change in information and knowledge management. So introducing this in the corporate environment seems to make a lot of sense. Step up Scuttle, a PHP-based Delicious (forgive me for dropping the dots – one day I’ll figure out why they go where they go) clone.
And there are a bunch more of these. 3 Spots has done a good job of highlighting a bunch of open source social bookmarking engines. While many of these make sense behind corporate firewalls, how far can these go in the outside world?
Metcalfe’s law often gets banded about in these discussions as it essentially says that the value of the network is proportional to the number of people active on the network. You may have the coolest features around – but if not many people are using them then the network dries up and dies. On that note I was wondering how well Sphinn would do. For those of you that don’t know, this is a Digg clone aimed at internet and search marketing. Why bother? Well, for the same reason that you’ll still find vertical search engines around even though the big G rules the roost. Still, how many of these are actually sustainable? As it is, give me more than about 3 logins and I’m lost.
However there is one area where this could get interesting: closed social networks a la Facebook. Facebook is determinedly Web 2.0 yet eschews a central tenet of this new(ish) era. It doesn’t care a damn about open access and all the Google traffic that would flow in as a result. Will this ever change? Perhaps not given that that is part of it’s enticement. You can keep your Facebook existence (somewhat) free. And when this gets abused, as happened to the chagrin of some Oxford University students, it’s news.
As Facebook grows, this anonymity gets tougher and tougher. For me, my Facebook existence is getting perilously close to overlapping with my corporate existence, and I feel this would be a shame. And my interests aren’t even that nefarious. One area where clones could develop and find an ecosystem is on the periphery of our society. Those with damp, dirty secrets and bizarre perversions. A specific Facebook (Fecesbook for the plating enthusiasts) for every trope could help those of like-minded persuasions get together in blissful isolation.
A post this size probably deserves a wrap-up: so go forth and multiply your social networks, but be niche and think of what the links are that could hold your community together.