Social Networking Burnout

Recently, I tried to use Plaxo’s contact tagging and organization system to sort out all my business contacts – a kind of One Network to Rule them All. I had contacts in LinkedIn, Gmail (two accounts), my business POP mail, several Excel spreadsheets, Facebook and a couple of blogging accounts, as well as contacts in OS X’s Mail and Address Book apps. Oh, and a stack of business cards going back two months. As you can imagine, this was one of the less successful exercises I’ve undertaken. More interestingly, I discovered that this is not a technical failing on the part of networking programs.

The problem is people are starting to get burnt out on social networking. More precisely, people are getting tired of having to maintain their identity on multiple networking sites. There are some moves to address this problem from companies and organizations like Twitter and OpenID, but by and large you still have to update each site if you change jobs or cell phone numbers.

Just this morning, I received an invitation to the social reputation site Naymz, which I duly added to my roster. What if Naymz is the next LinkedIn? I wouldn’t want to miss that. Then Naymz asked me, as a lot of these systems do, if it could take a peek into my LinkedIn and Gmail accounts (et al.) to see if I had contacts there using Naymz and, oh, by the way, wouldn’t I like to invite some of these people to use Naymz?

Well, no. When I was trying to update my Plaxo account, several of my contacts sent me polite emails telling me that they are sticking to one network (usually LinkedIn but in one case Facebook). One of my acquaintances put it succinctly:

“I’m a LinkedIn man right now… sell me on the merits of spinning up another connection platform to maintain.”

Mitch Ratcliffe at ZDNet put it in even more dire terms:

“Social networks as they are conceived today are cul-de-sacs where our personal data goes to die, returning minimal value before it becomes the property of a company or part of the public record.”

So, what does the future hold? Will social networking sites consolidate, become more homogenized, and basically offer users a “Coke vs. Pepsi” choice? Or will the number of sites continue to proliferate – and we’ll yearn for the days when we “only” belonged to seven social networking sites? As we go down the path of consolidation or fragmentation, the challenge for market researchers and strategists is to understand who’s using which network for what and, more importantly, how to extract information and value from those networks – delicately.

ADDENDUM 07/03/08:  OK, so now I’m doubting myself – David Hasselhoff has launched his own social networking site; maybe the end is indeed neigh 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Social Networking Burnout

  1. Craig Murphy says:

    Great post, nicely written…and so true.

    Social networking burn-out has, IMHO, through the lack of a consistent means (perhaps an API or a micro-format) for managing personal data, social networks, etc. I have a collection of Facebook friends, a slightly different set of LinkedIn contacts, another slightly different set of Plaxo contacts, etc.

    Over in the micro-blogging world, it’s the same: lots of friends on Twitter and a lot less on Plurk.

    The need to make it easy to share common information, and indeed sometimes more complex information is required. We need a common specification in order to make us use more than one social networking or micro-blogging site.

    Without such a specification, the adoption of such sites will be “wave-like”, i.e. wherever the masses go. The same can be said for the travel management space – great sites like Dopplr are seeing competition from TripIt and the like.

    Choice is good, but in today’s world, without a common specification, it’s more of a hindrance as we’re all spreading our time thinly between multiple sites that go some way to helping us perform similar tasks.

  2. Drew Bernard says:

    I have been finding myself on the receiving end of those email more and more lately. Interestingly, for me Plaxo is the one I have cut. Thanks for articulating the situation. I do hope the cul-de-sacs starting getting smarter about creating direct connections.

  3. taylorteach says:

    I like Facebook for friends & LinkedIn for professional contacts, and I agree with those who say it’s getting ridiculous trying to maintain all these “social” sites.

    The only problem is the unreliability of twitter, which serves a different function than the above-mentioned two. I love twitter, but it’s down so much of the time that it’s intensely frustrating. But I still haven’t switched to Pownce ~or whatever else there is out there~ because the people I know and talk to use twitter. It’s a problem.

  4. Aggregation? Non. Fragmentation? Oui.

    Soc nets are like bars, pubs. There are millions of them, and everyone has there favorite. We don’t patronize every bar in a city. So it’ll be with soc nets.

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