Thursday, November 22, 2007

Elite Social Networks or Loners In Lounges?

There's been a lot of chatter about the closed social networks out there like A Small World, Diamond Lounge and Reuters Space. They've been billed as highly targeted vertical communities with desirable audiences and bright futures.

But having checked out some of these communities, it's very clear that their success is relying heavily if not entirely, on the socio-economic make-up of their members. Following the theory that "it's lonely at the top", it makes sense that users in these closed environments will stray to mingle with the masses.

Here's an extreme analogy:

When traveling with 5 colleagues and only one is a member of the First Class lounge, the sole member is faced with a decision; ditch the other 4 and sit alone to enjoy a free drink and peanuts while not making true eye contact with other peanut eaters, or spend 30 minutes socializing with the others who clearly have some common ground and money to buy nuts and a drink (otherwise they wouldn't be traveling together).

While there's a clear opportunity to connect like-minded individuals within the closed communities, it's important to remember that these networks more often than not, really don't "own" the user in the way they hope to.

Currently, the elite networks are missing major components of true social behaviors. While there may be an undeniable cachet to being invited into the circles, new members are often quickly disappointed by the limitations of the sites.

Online user behaviors transcend group dynamics. People use email, instant messaging, watch videos, upload photos, use search and directories as priorities. Providing sub-standard applications to accommodate only a few of these behaviors will not build sustainable communities regardless of how closely their members' socio-economic commonalities are tied. The combination of limited value in terms of "cool stuff" and the clear draw of targeted media placements will soon make users take their elitist ways to or depending on how you look at it, out of the ghettos.

In the meantime, the open networks have had an opportunity to grab critical masses, aggregate all demographics, and overlay psychographics and behavioral data to create platforms that will gladly offer elitist "groups" every opportunity to create their own playgrounds.

Who knows, with all those bored A types, eccentrics and gainfully unemployed refugees, it's an offer they may not be able to refuse.

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