It is not surprising that after a mad rush to follow the crowd, catalysed by Facebook publishing their API (a strategy that allowed 3rd party developers to build applications that could leverage the platform and be used by Facebook members thus increasing
value of the underlying service) that the
steam would run out of this engine.
What continues to be ignored is
some research around one's ability to have multiple relationships - people are realising that being 'connected' can create massive information overload or as some people refer to it these days as (mental) bandwidth overload. As yet there's not been any
comprehensive research emerge about how digital technologies that leverage the internet can improve this ratio and to what extent while maintaining the quality of those relationships - thus, over time fragmentation is not just likely, it is expected and a
certainty - social networks today are like entertainment venues (bars, clubs etc.) that need to keep re-inventing themselves or stick to a formula that appeals to regulars, one size most definitely will not fit all.
Another thorn in the side of these mega-social networking sites that offer extensive interaction between members is the issue of privacy and ownership. Lets tackle ownership first... in December 2007 a
group emerged that wanted to create a standard for portability to unshackle themselves from one social network and move to another with the greatest possible ease by using a standard data template (XML schema no less) that would allow for the export and
import of one's profile between social networking sites. Of course this is not even half the problem, the majority of data one might consider to own goes beyond profile and relationships but extends to what is now being referred to as the Social Graph. This
is everything you consider to be yours whether it be pictures, blogs, articles, posts to forums, relationships (i.e. contacts) - thus all digital content related to your profile. How does one import and export that? Thus the challenge of ownership
is a significant hurdle to overcome but nonetheless users are starting to ask the question. Meanwhile some providers use
deft means to ensure this does not take place so as to attempt to protect and defend their investments by curtailing freedom and choice.
On to privacy... the other challenge is how to control privacy - it is not black-and-white and Dana does a great job of discussing
what happens when you mess with grey. So while many see the
great potential of global, distributed social networks there are still key challenges to resolve. Only then will all and sundry participate in the belief these tools/organisations respect their rights as owners and syndicators of digital content, giving
them absolute control of how they manage trust i.e. give and receive trust, just like we do today when we share a mobile phone number, our calendar, our location, a strategy document or pictures of our family.
To be continued ;-)