As an Internet native, you’ve probably thought something like this at some point recently: “What social networking service is worth putting my time into? What will still be around by the end of next year?”. It’s often a big decision.
Maybe you spent ages deciding whether to go iPhone or Android; Perhaps you’re looking into subscriptions or paid applications; Maybe you just can’t decide which website to use to keep track of your movie watching habits.
Whatever your decision, it’s worth having a little more than gut feeling to go on.
So I’ve analysed the sorts of things people will be looking to do and the sorts of developers who seem to be both using open data and sharing their API where possible, while simultaneously adapting quickly to consumer needs. These are the players on tomorrow’s field.
1. Smartphone: Android
If you want to know which flavour of smartphone has the brightest future: it’s Android. Apple might make great stuff which just works, but they are busy locking things to their requirements while Android is busy allowing as much as possible.
Check out some great Android sites here:
2. Chat: Multi-Purpose Client
Skype will hold out on its own for a while, purely because other applications can’t access it. Ultimately though, the multi-purpose applications like Adium, Trillian and Meebo will win this race. It’s all about easily contacting people, wherever they happen to hang out. The best tool keeps you connected to the most people you like.
3. General Social Networks: Multi-Purpose Clients
For the moment, Facebook & Twitter will reign in their own separate ways. But in the end, the clear winner will be the network which best lets you use and share data from whichever social networks you wish to associate with and whoever is on those networks.
This means the future lies with the Tweetdecks and Seesmic’s of the world. Whichever developer can combine your multi-service updates, multi-service friend updates with a multi-service profile (like FriendFeed, Soup or something using widgets well) will ultimately win over any individual network. If it can combine multi-service chat too, it will be a winner for sure.
4. Online Collections & Specialised Networks: Open Data Applications
There’s a massive amount of specialised social networks online, many of which also double as a profile to display some sort of collection you own or like: books you like; movies you own; your exercise history. Without doubt, the specialised networks that will do best will be the ones which have their own thriving community and internal communication.
However, to build that community and make it easier on their users, the better networks will offer to update user data from more general social networks, send data back out as RSS or directly to other general networks, offer widgets and make available the API to use their data. They’ll try to use open-source databases for managing their collections if possible. They’ll also do their best to make your interaction with this network easy from a smartphone.
Good examples of niche networks and collection managers:
5. Smartphone Applications: Interactivity Within Apps
Interactivity in applications means many things, but most importantly it’s about the applications being aware of other related applications and events, then behaving appropriately.
It shouldn’t be hard to access applications either. Users shouldn’t need to wade through piles of applications alphabetically: they should be able to indicate they want music and get pointed in the direction of the installed apps that will provide it. Until Android/iPhone and the apps work together to make something like this work, there’s apps that will help you to make sense of your apps.
I’d love it if I were standing under the Eiffel Tower, pulled out my phone and it said “Location: Eiffel Tower. Info? Share?” then allowed me to quickly get information from any of my location-aware or information-rich applications or share my location through an update or a check-in. The phone software would need to know the semantics of the applications, in the same way that when you share a picture it is able to suggest a method of sharing.
Applications which interact with information on a social network are also accessible online. Believe it or not, there are social networks out there which are not accessible via anything but your phone application. A good network will allow as many forms of interaction as possible, not limit it!
Then there’s interactivity between applications. For instance, an application which can scrobble tracks to Last.fm from almost any music player, or an alarm clock application which offers to start any music application when it goes off.
All Of The Above
Imagine if Meebo, Tweetdeck, FriendFeed, Foursquare, Google Contacts and Google Profiles got together, added a bunch of widgets from your other profiles and offered a great smartphone app. Here lies the answer to the ultimate social network: It’s everything working together.
In the end, wherever you’re making noise, it’s not social unless that noise gets to someone. If it’s not easy to share information, people won’t. If you join a new social network, there should be interactions with other members of the social network and/or information getting back to your real friends, wherever they happen to be contactable. Talking to yourself is not social: talking to your partner is social; talking on the phone is social; recording your voice for a podcast is social (as long as someone listens). Social networks online will either keep this in mind or fall into obscurity.
Let us know what you think in the comments below.