Wow. This is the year for the social web. A few major developments that will change the web as we know it that I'd like to share with the House Party team.
First, a bit of backstory. Social networks as we have known them have been very hungry for registered users, and have been fighting a battle on the web to get as many as they can before someone else snatches them up. So along comes Friendster back when I used to say "Why the hell would anyone want to take part in something like this?" and then Myspace who came along and gobbled up the youth of today and left Friendster mainly a non-English speaking social platform, as it's currently hugely popular in South America and Asia (Middle East Included). Then along comes Facebook, like a wave of molasses registered users stuck to it like—well, molasses.
Today Facebook doesn't have as many users as Myspace, but it's gaining and analysts predict it will catch up to Myspace in the last months of 2008. So now, in the English-speaking web, we have two major social networks each with massive amounts of users. Combined, there are 170 Million active users on the networks (holy moly). Now, here's where it gets interesting. Myspace's userbase caters to youth. And 50% of Facebooks users are post college—their fastest growing demographic is those 25 years old and older. What that means is that both cover a huge terrain.
It's easy enough to understand now how difficult it is to attempt to compete with the two giants with so many millions of people who have already invested time and effort nourishing their own social spheres—why would anyone want to start from scratch on a new network?
Enter the birth of the truly social web. The end of 2007 and the first few months of 2008 has been quite exciting for the future of the web. Enter the DataPortability Project and recent efforts from private companies such as Google's OpenSocial, Google's Friend Connect, Myspace's Data Availability Project, and now hot on its heels, Facebook's Facebook Connect.
Let's say I'm a member of Facebook, and I go to a site that I like, maybe a video sharing site, and I want to register. (Now keep in mind that I've already done the hard work of building my FAcebook profile and I've got tons of friends I'm connected with) The old way (January!) would have me signing up as a member of this video sharing site, and I'd then need to start from scratch, inviting friends to come join me here. You know what? Screw that! I remember the day when I was doing such a thing and stopped dead in my tracks and thought—what's the point? So from then on, I decided I wasn't going to go on like this.
With the major social networks now playing along with the guiding principles of the Data Portability Project, my friends can move with me as I travel the greater web. Now, I can sign up for that video sharing site, and if they've done their homework, they'll have already tapped into the available data from FAcebook, Myspace, Orkut et al and allow me to reach out to my existing network of web friends, pulling them along with me, or at least easily letting them know that I've found a cool site they should check out. It's a win/win/win situation for the user and for the site's who taps into the open data, and for the source network (myspace, facebook). The best part I, as a user, have only ONE profile I need to keep up to date. One profile with privacy settings. This is a major feat. I can update my profile photo, my other public-facing data, and adjust my privacy settings in one screen, and everywhere else I am connected is automatically updated.
Business folk reading this will most likely have seen something similar watching LinkedIn evolve, and Plaxo into Plaxo Pulse (and now it's been acquired by Comcast, which is a bit scary).
We've just gone through one of the most significant developmental stages of the internet since the internet itself was born.
What does it mean for us here at House Party? It means we need to keep a sharp eye on all of this, and not get left in the dust because weren't holding on tight enough. We need to process all of this to see how best to adjust to benefit from these developments. Otherwise we run the risk of becoming dinosaurs like so many of the web sites from the 90s! (Go ahead, take a look at what the web used to be like, you'll laugh your ass off. Check the Internet Archive and go back, wayyy back!)