The growth of social networking

By 2011 about half of U.S. online adults and 84% of online teens will be using social networks. This according to eMarketer. What this points to is an evolution or a continuing evolution of children who currently are becoming aquainted with and more comfortable with, “How social networks work”. This also points to the greater value that adults will put in their social network. “Their” being the operative word.

Furthermore, this raises a very poignant question. Though Facebook and Myspace are the darlings of the moment, can they continue the momentum that they can surely take credit for? Will they be “The” players in 3 years?

As it is right now today the evolution for most users looks something like this:

Club Penguin/Webkinz—->Myspace—->Facebook—-Linkedin.

I use Linkedin as the last one for professional reasons but really after Facebook, the usage fractures into a 100 different niche based social networks. This usage in the next 3 years will continue to evolve into hundreds of other social network sites.

My educated guess, though they (MySpace and FB) will still be viable, there will be others that will come along, if they have not already, that provide more to their niche than the current duo do. Here is the reasoning. Myspace is for teens/bands and tire-kickers and fringe users. Facebook is for college aged and older users who have more of a familiarity with the social network and all that it can provide.

So in 3 years when your current crop of Facebook users for instance, graduate and possibly outgrow the Facebook newness/coolness factor what do they do then?  What do adults who are currently using Facebook do in 3 years? The same thing I suspect that AOL users did once they found out that AOL wasn’t the only game in town. Everything will evolve. Including the knowledge and expereince of the users. Thus the reason that by 2011, social networks will be so entertwined in our daily lives that it will be assumed that you are part of some SN.

The good news, and really none of this is bad news, but worldwide Ad spending will increase at a healthy 20-39% each year between now and 2011 according to eMarketer. In the U.S. alone social network ad spending is expected to rise to $2.7 billion in 2011. Currently the pie is being divided naturally towards Facebook and MySpace, but look for that to change significantly with the growth of niche and marketer oriented sites.

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Class distinction is all over Facebook and Myspace, you just have to look

Here is an awsome (and long) article on Class and social networks

What’s not to like about Google?

You know there are always going to be people out there who will despise anything and everything that Google does and stands for. Of course we all know that they secretly use Google and if they were approached to work for Google, they would pause for about a split second before they accepted. 

Further enhancing it’s reputation as a company concerned with more than just search, Google recently announced that they were going to to use their incredible power as it relates to information and technology to help people better their lives. Google is rolling out five core initiatives that will be the focus of its philanthropic efforts over the next five to ten years. Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, will collaborate with experienced partners working in each of these fields, investing its resources and tapping the strengths of Google’s employees and global operations to advance its core initiatives.  

Today’s announcement includes more than $25 million in new grants and investments to initial partners. The resources come from a commitment by Google’s founders to devote approximately 1 percent of the company’s equity plus 1 percent of annual profits to philanthropy, as well as employee time.   Below is a listing of how the money is going to be disbursed:

$5 million to InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters) to improve early detection, preparedness, and response capabilities for global health threats and humanitarian crises. InSTEDD will work with the community of relief and response organizations, governments, academia and top scientists around the world to address gaps in information flow with software and other technology-based tools and services.

$2.5 million to the Global Health and Security Initiative (GHSI), established by the Nuclear Threat Initiative to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats.

More than $600,000 to Clark University, with equal funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, for Clark Labs to develop a system to improve monitoring, analysis and prediction of the impacts of climate variability and change on ecosystems, food and health in Africa and the Amazon.

$2 million to Pratham, a non-governmental organization in India, to create an independent institute that will conduct the Nationwide Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) as well as large scale assessments in the education sector.

$765,000 to the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, a Bangalore-based analysis group, to create a Budget Information Service for local governments to facilitate better district- and municipal-level level planning in India

$660,000 to the Center for Policy Research, an action oriented think tank based in India, to increase the debate and discourse on issues of urban local governance and urban service delivery.

$4.7 million grant to TechnoServe to provide general support to expand Technoserve’s efforts to support enterprises, spur job creation, and strengthen poverty alleviation programs globally, and to develop and implement a business plan competition to support entrepreneurs in Ghana and Tanzania

$10 million to eSolar, a Pasadena, CA-based company specializing in solar thermal power which replaces the fuel in a traditional power plant with heat produced from solar energy

RechargeIT is a Google.org initiative that aims to reduce CO2 emissions, cut oil use and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology. Google.org launched a $10 million request for investment proposals this Fall, and will invest amounts ranging from $500,000 to $2 million in selected for-profit companies whose innovative approach, team and technologies will enable widespread commercialization of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, electric vehicles and/or vehicle-to-grid solutions.

Granted that $25 million is not a lot of money initially when looking at what Google makes every day, but is certainly a step in the right direction and sets an examples for other like minded tech companies to either fall in step or raise the bar in regards to philanthropic endeavors.

The Top 20 search terms for the week

It’s a new year and thus the searches have a “turning over a new leaf” type of feel to them. But not for long, as our beloved searchers show their age when they give us WWE and Dragonball.  But fear not, we are still a nation/ world obsessed with absolutely anything that Britney does as well as Jessica Simpson and Lindsey Lohan. mnay thanks to the Lycos 50.

1 Poker
Full House, and you thought all that SPAM was worthless?
2 Golf
Fore! and it’s still winter people! 
3 Fashion
2008 trends.
4 Britney Spears
Dating and running from the paparazzo
5 Disney
“National Treasure 2” a must see.
6 Clay Aiken
“Spamalot”, Who said AI Stars have no traction?
7 Paris Hilton
Buddy Nicole gives birth. She’s slipping.
8 YouTube
Videos, we are a nation obsessed with videos
9 South Beach Diet
Low carb. Oh and we are obsessed with losing weight as well
10 Naruto
Manga
11 Pamela Anderson
Not pregnant and still looking, er uh.. like Pam Anderson
12 Kim Kardashian
Socialite taking advantage of her 20 minutes
13 Apple
Macworld, Check out the new Air Mac or mac Air
14 WWE
SmackDown. Who said anything about roids?
15 Lindsay Lohan
Dating Adrian Grenier? and still clean?
16 Pokemon
Battle Revolution
17 Jessica Simpson
Not at Cowboys game and they still lose.
18 Weight Watchers
Weight loss. In 2008, I will lose…
19 MySpace
Profiles
20 NFL
Playoffs? Did someone say playoffs?

What is a social network? Really.

A new report by Strategy Analytics claims that roughly one out of every 6 people on the face of the earth will be using social media in 5 years. To what extent and for what purpose reamins to be seen but the report also adds that there are currently approximately 373 million people using social media. “It is clear that user generated media will increasingly compete with professional media when it comes to the attention and free time of users,” comments Martin Olausson, Director of Digital Media Research at Strategy Analytics. “However, if professional media companies choose to embrace social media applications it will enable a more direct and positive relationship with consumers, which will in turn drive increased engagement and loyalty.”

The rise of social media sites and applications can be attributed to the desire of web users to create and manage their own content. This desire has fueled a cottage industry of niche based sites that are geared towards like minded individuals cut from the same cloth. What was unexpected though was the evolution and sea change effect that this has had on computing as we know it in the 21st century.

If the report’s estimates are proven to be accurate, one can only assume that there will  be more social networks available, all with their own hook, niche and community. One can also expect that blogs will continue to grow at an exponential level as the ease in which someone can create “their” blog will continue to evolve into an even more intuitive interface.  What all this means is that the rules as we know it in regards to how content is produced and how it is deduced will no doubt change. Just as everyone is now an amateur videographer, now too will there will millions of social commentators who will develop loyal readership bases. This will change the way the public perceives what they read.

One of the more interesting aspects of all this of course, is how marketers and advertisers are salivating over the prospect of selling to these targeted customers. The only problem is that the last thing that these social netizens or users are interested in, is your product. They will and can smell a marketer a mile away and thus if they are “found” out, they can forget it.

Social network users don’t want to be sold to. That is, in part why they are here in the first place. They want a nirvana like environment in which they can do their own thing without having to deal with a marketer or an advertiser or a pitch.  They want to play and share their widgets and tools with others without having some ad streaming across the top of the page. They want to  post, comment, create and “maybe” make money as well but as discrete as discrete can get.

Because of the value of user generated content and the lack of desire to be approached by advertisers while those users are in their “world” something has to give. Either users accept it or..advertisers get smarter or more respectful. consider the former being the road of choice. but really what we’re talking about is a sea change in how individuals go about computing. The sea change being a) that we accept that search is an integral part of of how are day begins or rather our computing day is wrapped around search and is integrated with search and b) What do we do with the rest of our time online? Social computing is your answer.

Ok so now what do the rest of us who are not into blogging or social networks do? Ahhhh…  but wait, before we are too quick denounce this “social networking” thing that is too hard to learn, perhaps we might want to reconsider a social network. Think back to when you or all of us were in High School. How were you labeled? What defined you?  The answer was, we were all in a clique a group or on a team. If you think about it, it’s how we were identified when we were growing up. What “group” were you part of? It was what gave us our identity.  The band, the chess team, the football team, the student council, the yearbook staff. Those were all social networks. The only difference between then and now, is that we can now share and communicate with those people 24/7/365.

Still there are inherent problems. The biggest one being a barrier of entry. Computing though accessible by all, is not affordable by all. Computers though accepted by all, are not understood by all and lastly computers, though they can close the gap between countries and people who wish to communicate, they cannot solve the issues of war, famine, and natural disasters. So yes social networks are a wonderous thing but truly, the only way they work is if people are willing to communicate, exchange ideas,  respect one another, and share in common goals and beliefs. Hmmm. there’s a novel idea. Is there a place for social networks? Absolutely. It’s just up to us to redefine them, because right now they are all cut from the same virtual cloth.

S-Commerce, where the E meets the social network.

A funny thing is happening to all of those builders of cool social networks. It’s the same thing that happened in the pre-dot com bust days. After their cool sites were built and they were all sittin’ around drinkin’ a microbrew, they all got the “South Park” look in their eyes and in unison said, “How do we make money”?

Again, in unison they said 2 things. “Well first we’ll make money off of advertisers and then, when we get so much traffic we can barely function, someone will buy us’.  I got news for you, a 1000 visitors a day, let alone a week, ain’t gonna gitter done.

So lets flash back to the South Park image again as they all look around after seeing that their traffic aint hittin the millions. “Now what”?

Well here’s an idea. Since consumer visits to social sites are growing at an exponential rate,  and since they’re becoming more comfortable with the model and more comfortable with the tools, controls and widgets of these sites, wouldn’t it make sense as a marketer to take advantage of this niche community? The answer is yes. But what about the owner/operator of the site what do they do?

So’s here how it goes down. Lets say I have this  social network for the lovers of all things llama. Why can’t I blend the transactional and social aspects of this group  by involving consumers in promoting and selling their offerings as they pertain to…”All things Llama”?

As these social sites become more and more “social”, and people find themselves spending more time on these sites, they become impervious to traditional media; That media being Tv, Radio, Newspapers and magazines. And what happens is that now all of a sudden your social network of peers and “friends” can now influence a buying decision. Because you trust them and they, you. Statistics show people join a social networking site to receive four benefits, 1) to meet people (78%); 2) to find entertainment (47%); 3) to learn something new (38%); and  4) influence others (23%) I tend to disagree with the 4th, but that just maybe a residual effect of a marketers desire to influence the social perception of their product.

Whats interesting to note though is that members of social networks have a higher disposable income than the general population – 20% more – and spend more of it online. So if they do and going back to our llama group analogy, we now present Joe, who is selling the most healthy llama snack ever made.  You trust him because Joe is a llama lover like you. Wouldn’t you buy your llama snacks from Joe? Of course you would!

You now have seen the benefit of selling to your peeps. S-Commerce.

But the question will  and does arise, how does a marketer get to Joe? How is Joe influenced to buy the best llama snacks?  For starters maybe Joe went to a branded micro-site devoted to llamas and their snacks, saw that they were offereing a free trial, and jumps on it. Or maybe Joe read a review online somewhere about the latest in llama feed and someone mentioned Killer llama Snacks. Joe could have been in a llama forum where he saw a skyscraper? Perhaps he could have been on a competeing site and saw an add for the latest llama snack? See how many ways you can get to him?

Of course Joe might be a heavy blog reader and reads a couple of killer llama blogs everyday where he reads some posts by the author or readers about an amazing new llama snack. Better yet, Joe loves Youtube, so combining his love for llamas and video, Joe does a search and finds a cool 30 second spot on the llamas at the san diego zoo that are big and strong thanks to the killer llama snack.

So by combining all elements of branding, and marketing, and advertising along with the power of a social network. And the trust that only a niche group could have for someone within the group, S-Commerce can thrive. The best part about it is that if your product makes it into the group. No selling is required.

Furthermore, you’re probabally asking, how does the owner/operator make money? Well since he owns the niche site, wouldn’t it behoove the maker of the killer llama snack to come to the owners and see if they can cut some type of marketing deal to push their product? You betcha. So now the only advertisers on the social site are relavant to the niche aspect of the site. Everyone wins…

Lastly, taking this to the next level then would be a company like lemonade.com Where they literally provide you with the stand and all you have to do is supply the products. Just make sure they(the products) are relevant to your group and you are good to go! It would also help if you were actually part of the group. Trying to win over the group as a  passing member of this group is a hard sell and could result in an instant loss of street cred. So tread lightly, stay long, grow some roots and sell some product. Can you name another seamless example of e-commerce in play in a social networking setting?

GodTube

It’s official, social networking has got religion. GodTube the website which set the record as the #1 fastest growing website in the U.S. according to ComScore during its first official launch month, continues to break new ground by announcing an innovative new partnership which, for the first time in history, brings together 50 diverse, faith-based organizations that span across the wide array of denominations, ranging from Protestant to Catholic.

These Ministry Partners will join with GodTube.com to extend the website’s reach to 300,000 out of the 360,000 US churches and a global/domestic audience of more than 1.2 Billion. Thomas Nelson Publishers, American Bible Society, Liberty University and the Crystal Cathedral are among the initial leaders on this distinguished roster which
includes some of the most respected and renowned faith-based organizations in the world.

The website has attracted 4 Million visitors per month, and is currently on track to attract 5-7 Million unique visitors per month for the month of November. GodTube.com recently launched its Social Network and already has over 200,000 registered users and approximately 25,000 churches with active profiles.

With more than 38,000 videos representing over 800,000 hours of footage offering a wide array of content and its live and interactive technology, GodTube.com provides users face-to-face interaction in virtual Bible studies, chats, and live broadcasts, as well as opportunities to connect through messaging, email, and video blogs.

So social networks have now reached into the US churches and can now connect with its flock on a more one to one level.   We wonder how open the door is to other religious beliefs? Only time will tell, but could this end up being the largest social network on the planet? If it makes the world a more peaceful place then bring it on.