This post is not about some other social network that has just popped up and why it is stupid. It’s about social networks in general.
I know a few people who, alone or with others, are trying to build and start their own social networks. Of course, my first mental response does tend to be “oh, please, give me a break, like you’re ever going to be successful with that!” … but that was my first response to both Facebook and Twitter as well, so I’m obviously bad at predicting whether or not something will be successful. (Facebook still really doesn’t appeal to me that much, I just stay on it because friends and family are on it and it makes it easy to keep in touch with them all at once; I think they should really just all join Twitter.)
Anyway, when determining whether or not a social network will be successful, I think there are two factors. The first is:
1) Luck! If there are two social networks that are roughly the same, the one that attracts the most participants will do so out of luck. For example, I joined Facebook because people I knew were already on it. (When I first joined Facebook, I didn’t know it would go anywhere, so all the info on my profile was fake, saying I enjoyed playing soccer and watching romantic comedies. When it became much more popular, I truthed it up.) If my friends and family were on some other social network that was roughly the same, I would have joined that. Once one social network starts snowballing, the others are doomed, and there’s just nothing that can be done.
This luck factor is I think what makes some social networks popular in some countries and not in others. Because most of the people we know the best live in our own country, different countries may have different social network popularities.
Anyway, what this also means is that no matter how many great “qualities” your social network has, there’s just no way to automatically get it snowballing. There is no magic element you need to add. There’s nothing you can do to ensure success. Nothing. Nothing! It will depend on luck.
2) Elegant organization. This won’t ensure success, but it may at least prevent your social network from being complete uninovative copy-cat drivel. I’m reading a book called What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis. In it, he mentions that he went to some conference or something and people were asking Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, what to do to create such successful social networks. And Zuckerberg said “You can’t.” You can’t force-create a social network. You can’t just build info forms and expect people to use the system you control to connect with each other. But Jeff Jarvis went into a bit more detail about what Zuckerberg said:
[Zuckerberg] told the assembled media moguls that they were asking the wrong question. You don’t start communities, he said. Communities already exist. They’re already doing what they want to do. The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better.
His prescription: Bring them “elegant organization.”
~From What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, page 48.
So … don’t even try to create that community. Just give people something useful, a way to elegantly organize their photos, their messages, their whatever, in a way that they can’t now (though I think photos and messages are pretty much covered, thank you very much). The community that already exists and would benefit from your method of organization will then, with luck, move in.
(The book expands on just what “elegant organization” means, but I think it might be self-evident… still, it’s worth checking out the book. I also recommend Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for the whole “luck” issue.)
Now… how will Twitter make money?