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Seeing that MySpace is basically dead, I started searching for old articles by people saying that Google should buy it. I found John Battelle in 2006 saying Google shouldn't do it but a few months earlier there were posts saying that they should buy MySpace, they would by MySpace, or Murdock saying ha ha ha, we bought it and Google didn't.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Social networking websites are like bars: popular for a while, then everyone runs to the next cool one. What makes Facebook smart is they are trying to become a platform so that so many other businesses plug in that everyone depends on them. They know that bars come and go cut everyone always needs a Shopping Mall.

Except, the shopping mall I worked at went under. It is now a shell of a building, with a few stores remaining. I don't think anyone goes there.

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>> I've said it before and I'll say it again: Social networking websites are like bars: popular for a while, then everyone runs to the next cool one. <<

I think you're wrong. Or rather, I think you're right in a narrow way, if we just consider "web sites whose main feature is to create a social network" - which is what friendster and orkut were at first. But that was just a first stab at an idea, and the net has moved beyond it. The kind of "social networking websites" you're right about, are passe as a genre altogether by now.

MySpace isn't dead, obviously, though that article does make it look like it might eventually be managed into oblivion. Which, as you point out, can also happen to a mall, or any other kind of business. That doesn't mean that all entities in that category are inherently short-term fads, any more than malls are.

"Social networking sites" in a broader sense now refers to a much wider variety of social online media, and when it comes to that wider variety, your statement no longer holds true. Hardly any of them are sudden huge fads that then fade when everyone moves on to the next cool thing. Some of them never go anywhere, some are interesting experiments that a few people try and learn from, and the successful ones are either good new ideas, or more effective or usable implementations of new-ish ideas, that build a userbase and plod onwards year after year. They may compete with each other, and some may rise or fall relative to others, but there's nothing "faddish" about most of it.

Consider social bookmarking, with digg, reddit, delicious, and a host of smaller ones (ycombinator, jaanix, etc.). Or social photo hosting & tagging. Is flickr a fad? Isn't picasa the next cool thing? I don't think so - it's just competition within a field or market, like any other. It's nothing like the friendster/tribe/orkut/myspace fad wave we had back when online social networking itself was the new idea and people didn't yet know what to do with it.

I agree. The genre is never going to die, and the techniques are being integrated all over and shall power the web for a long time.

However, sixdegrees, friendster, orkut, myspace, facebook.... (did I miss any?)... those are bars that will burn out as fast as they caught on fire. Except, possibly, facebook.


Well, sure, "except Facebook", you're talking about a dead genre. The fads all happened, the waves moved on, and they've settled down. Here in the US, we're left with myspace as the end of that line, and we'll see how it does. In some other parts of the world, they ended up with orkut, or something else. But that whole wave of fads, where one social networking site is suddenly cool and everyone joins it and then it's boring and a new one is cool and everyone jumps there - that's been over for years, it's not happening anymore, and most of the sites we call "social networking" today never saw that pattern and never will. (I also think Facebook was separate from it, and only seemed to be part of it because its rapid growth began shortly after the real era of social networking site fads ended).

What you are describing is the "power law" effect of social networking: a network is exponentially more useful with each person that joins. Thus, it is hard for new ones to get popular if anyone one network gets large enough.

I agree that the wave of fads might be over, but there are things that could knock Facebook off its block. We'll see.

>> What you are describing is the "power law" effect of social networking <<

This remark confuses me a bit. Not because I'm not familiar with the concept, but because I can't figure out how that's what I'm describing. It seems related to what I wrote, but only tangentially, to me.

Although, to take off on that tangent, I will add that before "social networking sites", the net as a whole was one big social networking "site". For a while, your home page was your profile, and you included a set of links to your friends' homepages, along with your photos and pieces of your writing or whatever. Then we moved into a phase where individual mostly walled-off social sites gave you a lot more power by imposing structure and regularity on the network and giving you a lot of tools based on the fact that they could assume a common structure within the site. I think the next wave of power will be in ways in which we can un-wall the communities, and return to the whole Internet being our one big social network again. We alread have limited pieces of it - and Facebook, with it's "connect" feature" - is one of the contributors. Eventually, this will cause that "power law" to be much more diffuse, allowing you to take advantage of the fact that your friends are on site A not by becoming a user of site A yourself, but by becoming a user of site B that shares some of the connecting infrastructure with A and a host of others.

>> I agree that the wave of fads might be over, but there are things that could knock Facebook off its block. <<

I can agree with both of those statements, but I don't see why they should be connected with the word "but". They're separate statements, neither one in opposition to the other. My assertion, though, is that the wave of fads ended several years ago, and is now gone gone gone, so any statement about social networking sites being a fad ought to be in the past, and does not apply (and never did apply) to the majority of social networking sites we know today.

As for whether any particularly successful one might fall in the future, that seems like a different matter. Facebook isn't a momentary fad, regardless of its future success or fall. It's not a site whose main draw is that it's the only one that happens to be cool at the moment. Its draw is the features it offers that people want to use, which makes it more like the other social media I mentioned - flickr, delicious, reddit, etc. Any of them might fail too. But it won't be because something else became cool so everyone runs to the new place for the very same thing they used to get at the old place, the only difference being that the new one is the new one everyone's running to. That, I think, was a feature of the early wave that ended a few years ago.

Everyone I ever met who worked at MySpace (when they were customers of a past employer) was an enormous tool. I can't imagine that's *good* for a company or project.

I think myspace would have lasted if it didn't turn in to cartoon networks advertising riddled bastard step-child. Facebook has it right because of its cleaner simple look, reasonable non-intrusive advertising, and not allowing people to pimp out their page. I hated that on myspace.

I didn't read any articles mentioned; this is just my uneducated opinion ;-)

I used to think that until I saw some research on who the actual users were. It turns out that there are big audiences for both styles of doing it, and neither of them is "right" - they're just right for different kinds of people.

Despite what Tom says, myspace isn't actually "dead", it's just been knocked so far off the perch it used to be on that it's unlikely to become the biggest again. It's shrinking. But it's still one of the biggest and most active online communities ever, with tens of millions of active users. That makes it much bigger than LiveJournal, for example, and LiveJournal certainly isn't dead. LiveJournal has "only" a couple of million active users, though, so it's approximately an order of magnitude, if not two, smaller than myspace. Which doesn't mean LiveJournal "has it wrong".

You might find this NPR piece interesting:

As a teen I had a summer job at what was once one of the largest malls in the country -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella_City. Many years after I moved away it was totally demolished, which is kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around because it was so big and active and I remember it pretty vividly.

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