Building a Social Network Strategically

Just completed round one of some due diligence I’m doing for a client who will require a white label social networking platform. The options are numerous, but many of them are not strategic, since it’s not yet clear if they can be extended or modified in the future which most of them appear not to be.

One key issue in social networks is that everyone seems to be building one (yes, I’m being facetious but it sure seems like it) and profile fatigue is growing as people express their frustration, “you mean I have to fill out yet another profile? Why can’t I just move the one I already have over at Face-Bebo-Hi5-Space?

Data portability and, especially, profile exchange between all of these networks will be absolutely critical for future success of any social network, affinity or plain-old-vanilla group online. Build a tactical destination now and you’ll end up an island like that blue sphere above.

I’ve done some initial examination of platforms listed on Jeremiah Oywang’s site here as well as roughly a dozen more. Many emulate MySpace and Facebook silo’s of data (tabs across the top with “people”, “video”, “members”) and several business models exist. Oywang stated in that post that he’s expecting significant consolidation in this space (“I’m hoping to see consolidation on this marketplace, it’s overcrowded, clients are confused, and vendors will slash each other down“). No kidding, Jeremiah, on the confused part and it’s too noisy.

In order to ensure that I’m focused on the strategic portions of a platform instead of eye candy or features, I also follow the smart people working on plumbing like the Open Data Definition (ODD):

Open Data Definition is a simpler approach to data portability. By creating a small, extensible framework for data representation and transfer, the format creates a generic infrastructure usable by any application. Profiles can be moved between social networks; accounts can be synchronised between networks; activity can be subscribed to.

If the database schemas can be agreed upon, then the next step is how to exchange this data and then to get buy-in from vendors. The people behind this, UK-based Curverider, are also soon to launch an open source social networking ‘engine’ called Elgg and you can read a few of the features on Dave Tosh’s blog post here (he’s one of the founders).

My analysis of any technology or software is with an eye toward the strategic since I hate to watch anyone choose a package that meets today’s needs but is a blue sphere in the short term. I believe that watching what is happening with plumbing closely will guide a strategic choice.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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