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 🙂