You’re Getting Older, And So Are Social Networks

    June 6, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

We’ve speculated doom, as is our nature some say, doom for the real world, the digital world, and most pointedly and assuredly for social networks. But social networks are an easy mark – in the beginning they depended on kids.

You're Getting Older, And So Are Social Networks
You’re Getting Older, And So Are Social Networks

There will be an Armageddon, an apocalypse, a meteor, an effect, a stock market crash, a melted ice cap, a flooded nation, a dotcom bubble bust, and desolate social networks. It goes like this, just like in every unfortunate condition of life, the natural flow is birth, growth, and ultimately death of some kind – Friendster is replaced by MySpace, MySpace is replaced by Facebook, and Facebook is replaced by Bebo? Or by [insert your favorite social network]?

The roller rink you went to as a kid is gone. So is the arcade, the swimming pool, and the YMCA. You know what they did with your favorite air hockey table and pinball machine? They sold them to the corner pub, where you hang out a couple of nights a week. Kids are digital these days.

So we apply that cycle to business, the Web, and to social networking because it is the most palpable to us. It sounds right in our mouths because it sounds right in our hearts; at its base, it’s about survival. 

Let me bring this more down to earth, address what sent me on the tangent you just read. Talk of bubbles has heightened – Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, and other giants of the Web are in an acquisition frenzy. There’s never been a better time to be in the start-up business, except of course this big-fish era’s older brother in 1999. Everything crashed then, and the natural association is believing it will crash again.

We’re still not over 1929, either, though we can’t remember it.

Blogger Marc Andreessen’s post "Bubbles on the brain" is like a silent echo of what I’ve been thinking…because despite the inevitable valleys, it seems most of our time is spent climbing. Andreessen quotes Paul Samuelson, an apparent master of concision:

Economists have successfully predicted nine of the last five recessions.   

Indeed, there’s a preacher on every corner.

Compare Andreessen’s optimism, which includes an exploration of the role of pessimism in survival, to blogger Stuart Brown‘s demonstration of the social network’s life cycle. Brown charts "the ebb and flow": the flat early days, the buzz, the growth, the peak, the plateau, and the inevitable decline into obscurity.

He cites Xanga and Slashdot as examples.

The pattern to fulfill this prophecy is seemingly very present. Valleywag presents a year-over-year analysis that shows MySpace garners ten times the number of mentions in the press as Facebook. But that gap is closing rapidly.

Brown’s Law, as we might call it now, echoes also our feelings at the beginning of this social ride: MySpace will be replaced once it stops being cool – and everything eventually loses its coolness. It’s the natural, generational ebb and flow. It’s socks and sandals, big hair and pegged jeans. And now Facebook is on its "meteoric" rise. But one day, too, Facebook will understand that all is vanity.

But honestly, I don’t think so. My hunch is that Facebook and MySpace will coexist, both of them giants, and one will win over the other in terms of share. Though Google dominates, it doesn’t mean Yahoo crumbles. Yahoo can and does exist in second place.

The trouble is that Google is so dominant that new search engines are blocked from the collective consciousness. The companies present now and pulling in billions will continue to do so. AT&T has been around in the physical world for 130 years. Steel companies, oil companies, restaurant chains, cola companies. All of them have been and will be here, calling the shots in their industry, regardless of new competition.

And I think the same will happen online – even with the social networks. MySpace and Facebook already are attracting crowds not typically associated with them in their infancies. They’ll also have the loyalty of the teens growing up with them, and like cola – most of us will accept either or both without blinking – they’ll use the networks simultaneously.

The biggest challenge will be attracting the next set of youngsters to their hangouts, not retaining their regulars, as they reach the plateau and become where the "older" kids frequent.