For fun, let's compare the Facebook and MySpace networks to big box malls. Each one has a good variety of appealing groups (stores) and services (applications) and each one provides a general food court where users can do what they are naturally compelled to do (in this case communicate) with friends and acquaintances (even though they risk running into people they don't want to eat in front of).
Although the larger networks provide groups for anything from cat lovers to Jaguar owners, I believe that passion drives inclusion. Social consumers wear their interests on their sleeves and while the major networks allow them to wear group badges, hobbyists are fundamentally looking for the full outfit, the real deal, a mecca for their passion.
With white labeling solutions like Pringo and Ning creating a new ocean of micro-communities, it seems inevitable that users will start to divest their time and activity from the major social malls like Facebook and MySpace to do some boutique shopping of sorts.
Belonging to groups on the major networks is like users toting around bags from their favourite stores. The appeal is more about status and association rather than true involvement and interaction with like-minded individuals. In my view, the major networks have too many mainstream distractions to provide focused interactivity to specific interest groups.
To make things more complicated, subject enthusiasts can be very competitive. Not only do groups on the mainstream networks have transparent profile building hierarchies ("I own this store, but you may carry my bag"), they also in some cases have a lack of trust. This lack of trust stunts contribution and interactivity. At the end of the day, the appeal of joining the groups boils down to wanting to carry someone else's bag.
One area that acts as a true conduit to interactivity is the blogosphere. While there are certainly the same types of profile building games going on, the volume and quality of content by subject is richer, the communication is less inhibited, and WYSIWYG rings true.
I believe that white labeling holds a lot of promise for the future of social networking. I have concerns however, about the aggregation of the micro-networks as I feel that this might bring us all back to square one where instead of users browsing and communicating with specialty stores, they are tied to SEO and revenue-driven directories guiding them through a climate controlled mall.