Running Water, Fire, and Facebook
Found In: Social Networks
Some technologies change everyone’s day-to-day lives. Electricity and many of the devices it has given birth to are examples of this. How would anyone survive without the microwave, the refrigerator, the television set, or the light bulb? When an invention’s applications abound, it becomes more than a tool—it becomes a necessity. After its introduction, ordinary lives are revolutionized forever.
The internet is one of these technologies. Like electricity, it serves as a conduit for all types of conveniences. Social networking used to be done at parties and work-functions. Now, everyone just logs-on and picks a site. There is Formspring, Linked-In, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook—and as new sites crop up every day, people everywhere are allowed contact with groups that share more and more specific desires and interests. Niche markets can be catered to in a way never before seen. So, what does this mean for social networking sites already in use? It means the breadth of their utility will determine the size of their user base.
The internet gives access to too many people for any one social networking site to fail based on how specific a demographic it serves. If a site for dog-walkers to connect and share tricks of the trade is created, it will not alleviate the need to create and share a profile on Linked-In. Whereas the former enables a more specific exchange of information, the latter allows for a dog-walker to connect with people outside of their profession. People who are not sold on the need to have a dog-walker can be exposed to the service. Surely, Linked-In will continue to have more users than any networking site for dog-walkers, because it has a broader appeal to professionals as a whole. Even if a niche site for each profession represented on Linked-In cropped-up, the need and benefit of maintaining a presence to other types of professionals would remain.
Take that principle, and expound. Facebook will always have more users than any other networking site specifically because it serves no specific group. It advertises itself as a social utility. That is its breadth. Anyone with the need to have contact with other people can utilize it. Each interest group represented by the people on Facebook can have social networking sites created for them, and will still have need for a presence on Facebook. It is there where they will be able to keep in contact with anyone, with any set of interests—not to mention their families and childhood friends. More ephemeral will be the niche site that chooses too specific a group to cater to and cannot generate enough users to maintain.
The internet is not going anywhere, and neither is Facebook, or Twitter, or Linked-In. The web allows for sites to appeal to narrower markets than ever before because when the globe is the marketplace it is possible to run a site based on interest in Foosball and scrape together 100,000 users. This does not mean these users will not want to update their Facebook status every time they have a new tournament to promote. The sites with broader appeal will continue to serve a function to even those with the most peculiar interests, because all people want to grow their networks and maintain lives with a diverse group of people who are all a little like them.
Nothing is permanent. But so long as there is a need for a convenient place to, well, convene, each site established will have a role in a global market. Only the most obscure niches will fizzle over time due to lack of usership, and the sites with broad appeal will always have a broader user-base. In this marketplace, any site consistently well run can maintain given enough time to generate a following. The whole world is the world lived in now, and every one is a potential customer, user, client, contractor, and friend.