Posted by: Shalabh | September 3, 2008

The Best Social Network

Been meaning to write this post for about a year now- to dig deeper into the question- “Which is the best social network?” (on Internet Media). Been postponing for a long while now-paucity of time, and (lame excuse) not getting a good photo editor..etc- but you know an amazing observation?- the answer is still as fresh even now!

Maybe this post will not be as powerful as I wanted it to be, but what the heck- Killing by procrastination might be worse. Do bookmark this page- or subscribe to the feed- as I intend to write more on this or update this post by adding screen shots and more figures to substantiate and make pretty. And your comments and emails are as always L-O-V-E-D!

I usually do not write about any media or my thoughts on media brands- because of my being associated with a media agency- but this post merits a discussion. Anyways- a disclaimer in the beginning – *ding* this is not to promote any property or discredit others. I value every property and believe that most properties have their space in the big media jigsaw puzzle *dong*

So here is the question, again: Which is the best social network? Facebook? My space? Bebo? How about Twitter? Or in the Asian context- is it Friendster, orkut, facebook?

An ordinary question you would say, if you are the agency types- “let me dig into the media playbook and take out the registered members and unique user details” Right? Not so fast!

I know ‘Best’ is subjective – but let start by evaluating some parameters that define a social network.  like everything else-the web has definitions galore-

*Personal or professional set of relationships between people…
*A map of relationships between individuals or organisations and others…

In its simplest form, a social network is a map of all of the relevant ties between the nodes being studied. The network can also be used to determine the social capital of individual actors. These concepts are often displayed in a social network diagram, where nodes are the points and ties are the lines…

  • Others: “Grouping of individuals into specific groups…”

what is social networking?

And a (tacky) YouTube video

So effectively an implied and simple definition could be that it is a phenomenon/activity where you (can) connect with others (and vice versa) – basis affinity or interest – personal or profession. And basis this connection, there are interactions, framing of opinions, sharing of ‘stuff’ (files, media, information, widgets, whatever).

Another important factor is “control”- you can control how much do you want to give out and who do you want to be in your network. Right?

Now a recent news: Media is hot with the news that Yahoo has been desperately trying into the social networking space- but has had ‘failed’ attempts with yahoo 360, facebook stake (lost to MSN) and Bebo stake (lost to AOL)- and the fourth ‘blow’- Mash. (pretty strong words- and we always love these things sometimes don’t we?)

Now take the simple definition and add to this news- what do you get? A disconnect. Why? Because I have always believed Yahoo (and MSN and AOL) always had an extremely potent social network- much before the SNW hype set in- and-as a matter of fact, used extensively since a decade or so.

I posed this question to a senior marketing manager at one of these companies who had come down to visit me from US- Do you know you have a great social network? He was foxed for a moment and then proudly said – “Yes- it is our email service!”

I wasn’t too impressed, and I’m sure neither would the people who coined the above definitions would agree. Cut to point- what in my opinion is the best social network? The Instant Messenger! *Ta! da! and drumroll*

And this is something that is so bloody obvious! It almost drives me crazy that this is something that none of the big internet companies realize- MSN, Yahoo, QQ maybe even AOL! I mean- ask any of their executives- and they are unlikely to brand these services as a social network- messenger is a separate category all together- and with little real innovations done around the product!

Its been always around (now don’t say classmates has always been around!) and meets a simple litmus test- just check all these features that are associated with the social networks of today:

  • Since how long has the business model on air? Messengers have always been around- from ICQ days- even till today. Hello- is that someone pinging you there? There’s something on the bottom right hand corner of your screen (Caught you glancing! Hah!)
  • Personalization: Check this out- more than 70% of my messenger contacts personalize their “Type your name” and “personalize a message”- right from ‘mood pangs’ to changed mobile numbers etc. My standard tagline is a cheeky “Don’t worry, I’m happy!” and my name is hardly ever “shalabh” on my messenger. You could have always added your photos (or your baby’s as most new parents tend to do) anyways.
  • Groups: You can neatly form your own groups and even view contacts that are online, offline or on mobile!

    Messenger personalization

    Messenger personalization

  • Control: Unlike most social networks, most people do not race for the maximum number of ‘friends’- since you do not have access to other people’s contacts, there’s no ego network. If you receive unsolicited add as a friend request, you can choose not to add, and if your boss has added you- you can block them later without them knowing them (of course the bright and not so busy programming minds have figured out that problem as well)
  • Status updates:Used to “What are you doing right now”- in Linked in or Facebook? On messenger, You can not only notify people whether you are online, busy, offline or ‘gone fishing’- but you can place small little snippets and customise a status message.
  • Sharing: You can not only share files, but know if your friend is listening to a certain kind of music, use a webcam- and voice chat with a group or friend. Beat that- SNW portals!
  • Phone calls and SMS: You can call at cheap rates and send free SMS using many of these apps. I missed pointing out the Skypes and the Mediarings- their primary purpose anyways was to get revenue through VoIP- but well even they failed to monetize as well as they should have been, IMHO.
  • Microblogging and blogging: OK not microblogging exactly, but the nicks are nothing less than that- people announcing they ‘need a coffee’ to pasting an interestng URL (go to google.com/chrome) and their state of mind (mostly depressed) “Need some peace” There is usually a link to a blogging service (so 1990s) but well how much does it take to enhance that funcitonality so users could use that through the messenger? Opt-in of course.
  • Information: You can get radio, customise news, get stock exchange information, weather updates, sports scores- virtually limitless options- limited only by the service provider’s imagination. Some information can be shared off the messenger- in this screencapture- notice how you can send a stock quote to someone and can add more plug ins!
Scability of Instant Messenger

Scalability of Instant Messenger

The instant messenger, according to me, has been the most understated but amongst the most potent apps on the net- it sits on your computer; has immense ad-targeting possibility; amongst the first social networks to monetize (albeit rather un-innovatively); has limitless scalability; is most personalizable, and is almost ‘always on’ for many users- no matter what website are they visiting!

Why- they even figured out interoperability- so now with the two biggest players, you can choose to have just one service and still connect with all your friends on just one platform! And all these things on the web based social networking environment- might even be the next phase of the internet- in case, say, friendster agrees to share users and apps with say, facebook (example)

My advice to the big players ( I know you ‘cayer’..la la la la la)- instead of running after acquring each other and the next big toy, please emphasise product development- you have the size,  the scale and the eyeballs. A very desired attribute will be- the balls! To invent, reinvent and preserve.

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