Sunday, June 14, 2009

The lifespan of a social network

Friendster is gone, MySpace is (gulp) going and Bebo was never really anything in this country. But are the past and current demise of these social networks a trend that will continue? Do social networks have a lifespan? Can a social network expire? Or is the market now maturing in such a way that social networks now know what their users want and as a result are now paving the way for a long and sustainable relationship?

Below is a trend (Nielsen Net Ratings June 2009) of the growth and decline of some of Australia’s biggest social networks within the last 13 months. Both MySpace and Bebo have seen consistent declines since May 2008 (Note Friendster, considered one of the original social networks does not even post a high enough unique monthly audience to a register a reading on Nielsen Netratings) whilst Facebook, Twitter and even a marginally, LinkedIn, have all continued to grow. But why is this?

In my opinion Facebook understands their market better than MySpace and Bebo ever did, LinkedIn in the same way and Twitter is at this stage still an unknown. The reason for Facebook’s success is because they know who it’s users really are. And who is that? Well it’s people who are really just interested in social networking, that’s it, there is nothing complicated about it. As such, their interface and functionality is simple enough for the internet novice to use with ease. That’s why it works and that’s why it has no expiry date. LinkedIn in the same way knows who it’s users are. They are businessmen and women. And again, as a result, their product caters for them and they don’t claim to be in competition with anyone because quite simply no-one really does it better. And then there is twitter. The baby of the bunch. The baby whose mother says it can be anything it wants to be. I think what will happen with Twitter is very similar to what has happened with LinkedIn. It will become its own market and cater for a very specific market of tech inclined users who want to share the love about interesting URLs they have found and a few people who want to share what coffee they are drinking. Not to mention those who want to market their businesses (Thanks to Martyn - How could I forget!)Once the media hype dies down it will settle in growth but never reach the heights of Facebook or MySpace. Why? Because updating your status is just one of the functions of MySpace and Facebook. Why go to another network that offers just one of the elements that you are currently enjoying on another?

With the industry only being in existence for 4 years it is probably too early to say with certainty whether social networks have an expiry date or not. But now that many networks are catering for a specific market and they know exactly what their market wants, the early networks may just be squeezed out.

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