Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Long Tail of Social Networks

Yesterday I received a post on Tech Crunch regarding a company called Ning, that now has now modified their tool for creating online social networks without any development knowledge. I created one myself in about 5 minutes and also sent the link around to a few at work. One of my colleagues also created one, and we started talking about what this means. A tool like this that any web-savvy user can create with, the long tail of social networks will start. They have as Chris Anderson stated 'democratized the tools of production'. No longer is one forced to mold into one of the big existing social networks. These now mainstream social networks have critical mass in terms of size but little to no focus, on anything besides creating large friend lists and an online communication portal. I have already stated that I think large social networks will reach a tipping point. Ning's tool will allow social networks to be created on any topic/interest that one can imagine. And just like the long tail has proven for niche content creation through blogging, I expect the same to happen here.

Of course these long tail social networks will not build memberships in the 10's of millions, but that is not their purpose. Their goal is not to compete against MySpace or Facebook. They offer what the mainstream social networks can't, due to their large size. They allow small focused groups to form, bond and socialize on specific topics of interest. Think about the potential for knowledge sharing and networking that could be done now. Personal blogs started two way conversations. Long tail social networks will create focused many-to-many conversations. They may become a natural extension of active blogs, where blogs test the waters to see if the conversation is worth having, and niche social networks extend these conversations. The long tail has proven that if one person has interest in a topic, there are others.

From an advertising perspective, long tail social networks could be an untapped goldmine. A few hundred eyes or possibly a few thousand eyes, that are part of a long tail social network that has a narrow focus, it likely more valuable than 100,000 eyes in a mainstream social network, where all you really know is that these people are social and they are likely under 30.

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