As social media and networks continue to fascinate and confound me, a trend in the long tail of social networks is beginning to emerge and cannot be ignored by marketers.
With the recent David vs. Goliath battle of Facebook Places (circa. 500 million users at time of writing) head-to-head with the relatively unknown, (yet ubiquitous in its own right), Foursquare (circa. 2.5 million users at time of writing); this quick poll of user activity has proven that yet again, niche-level services continue to prevail. One is led to believe that Facebook Places will only survive as an internal ‘app’ within the Facebook framework, if it recognises that Foursquare addresses the cognitive behaviour of its users in a congruent manner and seeks to either emulate or work with the said newer network in order to further its own proposition.
The Rise of Mobile
There has been much discussion and speculation regarding mobile as being the future of the web, but relative to the growth of technology in the last couple of decades – mobile’s influence on the market has been relatively slow to reach critical mass.
Indeed, it has been the charge of one particular industry innovator – that is, Apple – who have sought to capitalise and shape the industry almost single-handedly with its iPhone product and platform. Even Google with their army of genii could only limp into the market, post-hype, with their Android platform; this now dominates the rest of the mobile smartphone market and has set the scene for a new wave of technology, software and user adoption.
So, working slightly backwards in this post, this leads me back to Foursquare, which like any great new startup, has found its niche and stamped its authority on the market very quickly.
It does what it does well; it provides a fun and addictive platform for users to ‘check-in’ to locations; collect ‘badges’; leave ‘tips’ for places that they enjoy visiting; and add other places on a virtual ‘to-do’ list for whenever they are in the area in future. Even I have found it a particularly useful tool and as active as I am in the digital space, I tend to keep my personal social media activity to a minimum – especially with all this talk of future identity issues.
Perhaps the smartest planning involved in the makeup of Fourspace is its clever attention to business and the model for revenue generation. This has always plagued the social networks when stepping up to the IPO plate, so it looks like these guys have their bases covered.
From my perspective, it does appear that the industry is moving even further into the long-tail – perhaps even more so than was original envisaged by Chris Anderson. It will perhaps become more likely that generic behemoths like Facebook (or perhaps, just Facebook on its own) will continue to provide the basic structure for sharing a little of everything with your friends – but it will be the specialist and niche social networks that will continue to innovate and form the fabric for new communities going forward.
Services like Flickr, for example, are quickly becoming very large communities in their own right and I don’t see this trend diminishing anytime soon.
The importance of technological convergence looks equally important in this social media revolution; key, converged, but niche-focussed products like the FitBit and Amazon’s Kindle could well be pivotal in forming the social networks of the future.
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