On Monday, I gave the kick off speech for the Graphing
Social Patterns West conference on the topic, “The Future Of Social Networks”
(slides are available on SlideShare, summaries available on News.com, ReadWriteWeb, and allfacebook.) Note that this is still ongoing research, so I welcome your comments.
I set my time frame for the long term – five, even ten years out. That’s because unless we know where we want to end up, how could we ever craft a strategy to get there? For inspiration, I thought about my grade-school kids, who in ten years will be in the midst of social network engagement. I believe they (and we) will look back to 2008 and think it archaic and quaint that we had to go to a destination like Facebook or LinkedIn to “be social”.
Instead, I believe that in the future, social networks will be like air. They will be anywhere and everywhere we need and want them to be. And also, without that social context in our connected lives, we won’t really feel like we are truly living and alive, just as without sufficient air, we won’t really be able to breathe deeply.
There are four components of what I’m calling this idea of “ubiquitous social networks”: 1) Profiles; 2) Relationships; 3) Activities; and 4) Business models. These aren’t new -- I wrote about the first three in my original report on social networks back in May 2004. But in the context of ubiquitous social networks, they will develop into the following: 1) Universal identities; 2) A single social graph; 3) Social context for activities; and 4) Social influence defining marketing value. For more detail on each of these components, see the extended post (warning: it's really long!).
The ubiquitous social network isn’t going to happen overnight – in fact, it’s going to take five+ years to come to fruition. This is part of the continued evolution of open platforms, starting with walled garden services like Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL that evolved into the major portal aggregators like Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL. This gave way to the “search era” where Google et. al. made all of the Internet easily accessible. Today’s social networks are a throwback to those early closed platforms, and they will be opened up by new “entrants” into the social space – namely, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google, and AOL – who will leverage their deep, daily relationships with online audiences.
In the end, there are two essential things that have to present for this all to happen. The first is technology -- ubiquitous Internet access and the servers to enable real-time social graph access. Given the pace of technology development, I'm pretty sure this will happen. The second is much harder -- trust has to be present, between people, between social networks, marketers, and developers. This is what is going take a lot of time, effort, and patience, but the optimist in me thinks that it will come. That's because people will press for it, demanding that sites and applications adhere to a Bill of Rights for users of the Social Web.
So what is a social network, marketer, or developer to do? Here are my recommendations:
- Create linkages between services based on individually-controlled identity federation
- Compete on creating the most compelling social experience, not social graph lock-in
- Develop social applications that have meaning
- Integrate social networks into existing activities
- Design business models that reflect the value created by people’s social network
In the extended post (click on "More" below) is a more detailed explanation of how I see each of the four components of ubiquitous social networks developing.
As I mentioned above, this is ongoing research and I'm far from done. So if you have ideas, comments, criticisms, or examples, let me know via comments below or email at cli at forrester dot com.