Social Networking – Past & future

Social Networking – Past & future

Looking back to 2007 – and it seems so long ago now – social networking was just starting to get a bit of buzz happening.

Some of the social networks that we were talking about in 2007 included Bebo, MySpace, Second Life, and YouTube. Back in those days we were all talking about Second Life, and pondering how it might revolutionise business. Ross Dawson’s Impressions of Ad:tech Sydney 2007 gives a good flavour of some of the buzz at the time.

It is also of interest to note that some of the questions raised back in 2007 included: identity protection, growth of personal branding, how to do SEO & online marketing, how to incorporate social media into marketing plans. Funnily enough we are still searching for definitive answers to most of these even today.

Darren Rowse (aka ProBlogger) has a good summary of some his thoughts and concerns back in 2007 in his archives.

For me 2008 was the year of microblogging with a bunch of new betas, e.g. Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce. By mid-2009 the clear winner in microblogging so far is Twitter, but it has also been interesting to watch the evolution of Friend Feed.

Again, this marked a shift in the way people were using the internet. There was a move away from static web 1.0 mindsets, where the chief consumption mode was passive consumption, into a more active and collaborative co-option of technology to each user’s own purposes.

Social-Network Traffic Surpasses Web-based Email's in UKThis was a seismic shift in how ordinary people used the internet and applications. For me this is borne out by the Hitwise UK email v. social traffic statistics that showed social network traffic surpassing web email for the first time at the end of 2007.

[Source: Hitwise]

This trend arises, not because people suddenly stopped emailing each other in 2008, rather it is simply easier to send messages from within Facebook (or whatever social network they were using) than to open up an email program to send a message.

In any case, this phenomenon signifies a shift from the old utilitarian world of email to that of the integrated social network.  Where the integrated messaging and online presence was enabled without the need for users to purchase expensive unified communications platforms.

Looking forward

It is hard to predict the next big thing in particular (who could have predicted Facebook or Twitter in particular).  Rather it is probably safer to identify some trends that are driving technology innovation.

We are at a stage in the evolution of devices and bandwidth that will enable location based services to come into their own.  Their rise has been predicted many times but never at a time when the iPhone and its various competitors is a commodity product.  With the game changer of the mobile computing device (a.k.a. mobile phone) location based services are finally viable.  I suspect that we are going to see many contenders and it will be hard to guess which ones will win.  New products like FourSquare , Google Latitude are considered contenders in this space.  This trend especially taps into how teenagers use technology to stay in touch and find out where their friends are right now.

The other trend that is accelerating is video on demand.  This is another area that will continue to grow.  Where all the growth in the past few years has been in text based social computing I think we are about to see video based social computing and communication take off.  Again, this has been predicted before but the bandwidth and hardware were insufficient to support it.  Now though we have many devices that are ready to support high definition video over high bandwidth connections in the hands of ordinary people.  The usage trends show how significant this trend is– for example the growth of Hulu and the continued strength of YouTube.  Also international news services like the BBC and Australian Broadcasting service are seeing publication of video content as a public service with their iPlayer and iView services respectively.  Already this trend is impacting on television viewing figures and we can expect that to continue.

Handing Your Brand To The Consumer

We had a really good discussion on this topic in our panel session this morning at ad:tech Sydney. The topic was Handing Your Brand To The Consumer: Are You Willing To Let Go?

The distinguished panel members were: Charis Palmer, Managing Editor, Online Banking Review; Jackie Maxted, CEO, beautyheaven.com.au; and Gareth Llewellyn, Corporate Communications Manager, Oracle Australia.

Starting with the proposition that any control over brands in the past was merely an illusion we heard some case studies from Gareth & Jackie. Then we segued into an interesting conversation about some of the issues.

The wide ranging discussion covered areas such as risk and resourcing for online activities like blogging and social networking for business.

Another important topic was getting the tone right and the importance of a relaxed culture vs. corporate tone, and informal vs. formal messaging.

Other considerations included transparency versus legal & compliance issues – especially for banking and other highly regulated industries.

The consensus was that brands are out of our hands to a certain extent anyhow, so it is better to engage on your own terms and start a conversation with consumers. And listening was seen as a critical starting point to the dialogue.

A big thank-you to the panel, they did a great job in bringing out key lessons learned and issues for consideration before embarking on this kind of corporate journey. Will try to blog some more about this later as the panel had some good ideas.