Possible future of social networks: Niche social networks


A little backstory: I was lucky to participate as a listener in lecture/discussion “Talks of those, who create- backstage of twitter & draugiem.lv” (title is translated; it might be a little off).

People giving presentations were Kristaps Skutelis, Jānis Palkavnieks and Artūrs Mednis. The one which raised most of my interest was the one given by Jānis Palkavnieks- he’s spokesperson of Latvia’s biggest social network draugiem.lv.

The points I did not agree in his presentation were: a) draugiem.lv is more like home, while Facebook is more like McDonalds; b) Path is an example of how location, twitter and instagram becomes unified in one social network and that it might be the future of social networks.

This is my take on things and I really respect draugiem.lv for what they’re doing and trying to do, so don’t take this the wrong way. These are all speculations and only future itself will determine who’s right. If I’m right this will be my proof, that “Ha, I said so!”, but if I’ll turn out to be wrong, the joke is on me. However, it’s possible that the truth lies somewhere in between…

Here are my arguments

Draugiem.lv is more like home, while Facebook is more like McDonalds

While people might see draugiem.lv as “our” social network and as more approachable company than facebook, in its essence it’s a tool- tool, which helps us stay in touch with our family, relatives, close friends, friends, acquaintances, etc. Any one of world’s social networks could be compared to “home” if all of our friends were there. I would like to compare social networks to phone operators. Does anyone really pay more attention to network provider itself, than to those with whom we can connect using it?

This is very important point. This idea of “us, being cozier” network can lead to carelessness, while others keep on working on innovations and new & better features and tools.

My point: Social network is a platform (just like mobile network carrier, city or gym) and its level of homeliness is determined by people with whom we interact on that platform, not platform itself. People tend to choose platforms which help them to get stuff done and then get out of the way.

Path is an example of how location, twitter and instagram become unified in one social network and that it might be the future of social networks.

Path is very interesting app- as social network, great mobile design example and niche product. But I do see some flaws in it’s concept.

It’s meant to be as a tool to connect with family, relatives and close friends. After all it has a friend limit of 150. They have taken some the best features from Instagram (photos & filters), Twitter (short updates), foursquare (locations, check-in’s), shazam (song recognition, sharing of them), facebook (friend concept, tagging people) and even added some features by themselves (sleep/wake time + the app learns over time). The problem lays elsewhere- if this sharing is intended to stay private and is meant only for family and some friends, it requires completely different tools of sharing.

For example, check-ins in locations- they were designed for use in personal networks, which accommodate much broader personal audiences than family & close friends. Also, they are merely meant for people who want to show off- like “I’m going places, doing stuff & meeting people, you know”. For family and close friends check-ins doesn’t work. It requires too much work and decision-making on user’s end. Some check-ins are ok for public, some are solely private and should be seen only by the closest ones and some lay somewhere in between. Location sharing in close circles has to be more practical- like “Find My friends” on Apple devices. This app doesn’t require any action by me, but those closest to me can always check out where I am. This might be especially handy for parents with kids. For god’s sake, no one wants to impress family with checking in in bars.

Photo sharing- as with places, photo sharing in family has a more practical angle. It’s not where you have been, it’s more about catching up- with who you were, how other relatives are doing. And how they look now. This requires extensive photo sets, not one instagram photo. This might be some kind of modified photo stream.

I do not believe in blending everything together. For example, when I leave work at 18:00 and want to go for one beer, I want to know where someone is right now (foursquare), not what he/she thinks about weather (twitter). When I want to have a discussion about something that is happening right now (twitter), I do not want to do that between photos of ex-classmates and updates about someone’s unlucky love life (facebook).

My take: the best tool for each activity will win. Especially on mobile devices. That’s why facebook bought Instagram. While Instagram has nailed the mobile, facebook has no clue about how to act there.