Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Long Tail of Social Networking

SBolson posted an entry not too long ago about, the sports-centered social networking website, gaining traction. An interesting article on CNN titled "My Space, Facebook: Big Not Always Better" notes that niche sites like these are springing up all over the place, covering activities, hobbies, ethnicities, diseases, and all manner of small-interest topics that keep them under the radar compared with giants Facebook (FB) and MySpace (MS). They are ad-supported, like the big players, but don't rely on scale because their micro-targeted nature allows them to charge up to ten times more for ad space than more general sites.

This looks to me like a Long Tail phenomenon in social networking. Take the comments of a knitting aficionado, for example:

Ward said Ravelry offers depth and breadth on knitting like no other social network. After all, where else could the eLearning project manager at the University of Sydney find "Ivory Tower Fiber Freaks," a forum devoted to academics who knit?

She said she tried a few craft-related groups on Facebook but found participants "all really young, immature and not very knitting-literate."

An intriguing question is whether the next phase in social networking will be a migration to micro-interest sites. For now, FB and MS are permitting these niche sites to build widgets that integrate into the larger sites, so that users can keep tabs on all their social networks from a single location. But will that be enough as FB and MS users realize that the high-quality information and truly devoted hobbyists/interest-ists on niche sites exceed the lowest-common-denominator status that comes with having a truly immense user base?

Thinking about my own use of Facebook, I have to admit that the groups and applications dedicated to my interests (e.g., wine) are pretty weak. I stay, for now, because I'm more interested in connecting to old, far-flung friends than making new ones based on shared interests. That may not be true forever though, and these long tail sites may just be on to something...

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