Social networks; by now even our parents are aware of them. In fact many of them even have their own profiles (even my mom signed up to Facebook 2 days ago). The billions of daily page views on these networks mostly go to viewing pictures, writing on walls and, as research has shown, dating. But what I’d like to focus on is what doesn’t happen on social networks. There has to be so much more then merely browsing photos and sending messages.
See, I believe we’re only at the beginning of the social networking revolution. Now that they have the users and tons of traffic, what will happen next? How can we, the user, benefit from our social network? And above all, what will keep social networks on top of the food chain?
Knowledge sharing platform
I believe that a form of social bookmarking should be at the core of each social network. As a user you want to tap into the collective mind of your friends or peers. You want to be able to search through your own tips/bookmarks when you go out for dinner, but it really gets interesting if you can search through the knowledge of all your friends when, after all, most people trust their friends when making a decision. Basically you and your network are building your own search engine which gives you filtered results on your queries from your friends (this is what we wanted to go after with Fleck). You might argue that this is already happening on Facebook, people share knowledge and links, but you only have to look at twitter to see its a far better knowledge sharing platform than Facebook – in its current state at least. In this light, this is probably one of the many reasons Facebook bought Friendfeed, not a bad move if you want people to share more of their knowledge.
People spend a lot of time on the web looking for entertainment, whether it be playing games, watching funny videos or a full blown series on Hulu. Many Social Networks have (partly) opened up their database, enabling other companies and developers to build apps for the networks audience. Many of those apps are games, but I think we can expect deeper integration. Social Network Netlog has already integrated Kalydo’s gaming platform. Their games are now available for Netlog’s 50 million users to try. This is of course also a new revenue stream for the network, the games work on a freemium basis, but if people ‘buy’ a game (for around 10 euros) then Kalydo and Netlog share the profits. A win win situation for both parties. Netlog has the traffic and the users and they can monetize some of it, Kalydo develops cool games and finds an audience in the Netlog network, with a revenue share on each payment.
Expect to see more of these kind of deals, whether it be games or videos.
Online and offline, mobile powered
Up until now social networks aim to manage your online identity and life and therefore there is little congruence with the offline world. Something I just don’t understand is why the big social networks haven’t embraced the ‘friend finder’ opportunity on your mobile phone. I mean, how obvious is it…? When I go out on a Friday night it’d be wonderful to know that 4 of my best friends are in the next bar. The technology in my pocket allows this already, and has done for some years, but since the iPhone and Android location has become almost a commodity. An argument for a social network like Hyves to not implement a friend finder is that it wants to launch a product that can be used by the whole community and not only by iPhone or Android users. Foursquare is gaining popularity fast and it totally makes sense. Foursquare is unleashing the locational aspect of your local network. This is truly powerful. I love foursquare, but I’d rather have it build into Hyves or Facebook. Foursquare will probably be bought by facebook, at least, it would make total sense if they did.
The new telco?
This might not suit all social networks, but networks that have a very high percentage of a total country have the ability to start their own MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). An MVNO basically buys network capacity from a telco that has the infrastructure (e.g. T-Mobile, Vodafone etc), and uses that capacity to create their own telephone company. So imagine you get a Hyves subscription and you can call for free with your 10 best friends (or with all your contacts that have a Hyves subscription as well for that matter). 55% of all Dutch people have a Hyves account, so they have massive buying power. The social network can offer you all types of communication with your network, next to email, messaging also calling, text messaging etc. I understand that this is not something a hardcore web company sets up overnight and it might be better to partner with an existing company, but the data and revenue this generates could be huge.
Social networks are the new banks
Thanks for the dinner, how much do I owe you? Many transactions are being done within a group of friends. In the future we will be wiring money via our mobile phone to one another. Doesn’t it make sense to be able to send cash (and I mean real cash and not some sort of virtual currency) using our network. You don’t have to know a bank account number, you only have to be friends on a network (or send it to a username within the same social network). This is a very interesting revenue stream for social networks. First of all, people have to deposit money to the networks bank accounts and they can pool that money and get interest revenues and they can charge you per transaction (say 5 cents per transaction).
Social Networks can be at the centre of it all
Fred Vogelstein wrote in Wired magazine that “Facebook aims to put its users’ social networks at the center of all they do online”. I like to go further, social networks have the opportunity to become the center of all we’re doing online and of what we do offline (or at least, a big chunk of it).
Read next: Qype Launches in Italy