Impressions from Cybersymposium @ HBS: Everything is social networking and social sharing

I attended the Cyberposium 12 on “Need directions? Mapping future technologies” today at Harvard Business School . As a researcher mainly interested in Social Networks and Web 2.0 applications, I was mostly attracted by the panels Web 2.0 and future directions of Telecom applications.

This was my first “vendor-only” conference on the topics of Web 2.0 and social networks and I was interested to hear what kind of new applications Google, Yahoo, AOL, Palm, Motorola etc. would have to offer. Interestingly enough – not too many new things – except: everything is social networking and sharing – even those applications which weren’t’ originally designed for that purpose. Baseline of all discussions: everything is sharing – everything is social networking.

Metrics for estimating the scalability of social networking platforms

Another important take away is: there are no measures so far on how to estimate or analyze the scalability of social networking websites. Even the VCs haven’t found satisfying measures – except of course current number of subscriptions – to understand if, when and how a social networking website will be successful. Platforms such as Friendster haven’t managed to follow through after they have initially attracted a lot of users – who are not coming back. Orkut is mainly geographically active (Brazil and recently also India). Most of the others are focusing on a specific market segment, see for example MySpace. One metric can be the costs of switching to another platform.

Next wave

It seems to me, that we can learn a lot about all those markets that are usually excluded from the well-known western social networking sites. I learned that there are a couple of immensely successful social networking platforms in Asia, such as Mixi in Japan (invitation only), or Cyworld in South-Korea. Both in their local language and I couldn’t find an English page. In both platforms, revenues are based on transactions, such as the sales of ringtones, virtual goods, etc.

Food for thought/research

From a social network analyst perspective – I am wondering, why are people creating new ties online, abondoning their “network” (I built up a whole network of people on Friendster, but hardly look at it anymore…), switch to other platforms (I am personally using openBc now) or reconnect with their existing or previous networks on specific platforms (recently I made my way back to Friendster, just because they have started to bombard me with emails to let me know that Kendall has changed his picture – interesting to see how he looks four years later).

Together with Thomas Langenberg, from the EPFL Lausanne, I have written a paper on these four phases and what we already know from the literature on these phases (mostly insights from the offline world). We will start to collect data and analyze these questions soon (come the new year).

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