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Stop asking: “Does the world need another social network?”

Do we need another social network?
A recent Valleywag article asks whether UnitedDogs.com, a social network for dogs and cats, is "a social network too far." I heard a similar question earlier this week, when I heard a senior VC ask, "Do we need another social network?" I think it’s time to stop asking this question.

Ultimately, the point of contention can be reduced to your view of social networks:

  1. Are social networks a simply new "product category?" Meaning, there are email sites, shopping sites, and now, a new category of "social networking sites?"
  2. Or, alternatively, are social networks a "design principle" that spans across product categories?

I’d argue vehemently that social networks are #2. That is, given enough time, our label for "social sites" or "social network sites" or "web 2.0" will simply mean "website." The reason is that social software is part of a larger trend of read/write web. Just as many website incorporated ideas like comments, or forums, or even navigation bars, I believe the advantages of having extended profiles that represent social relationships will be on nearly every site.

Does the world need another dog website?
So when you ask, does the world need another social network (for dogs?) the real question to ask is, does the world need another dog website? To me, that’s sorta like asking, "does the world need another piece of software?" The answer is almost always yes ;-)

(This is with the caveat that the world needing something doesn’t mean it’ll be a billion dollar company, or it’ll get to 50 million users, and so on)

The big paradigm challenges for Web 2.0
If you’re with me so far, and something that’s moderately difficult today (building out a social network) turns into something trivial and ubiquitous, what are the problems that remain?

  • Lots of fragmented data about individuals and their social relationships
  • Lots of fragmented support of applications AKA widgets
  • Lots of fragmented authentication data like logins, passwords, and other info
  • Lots of fragmented websites where it’s hard to find the best information
  • And most importantly, on top of this, the big players (like MySpace/Facebook) aren’t incented to make this interoperability work

Of course, this is not much different than where we are today – in the desktop and Web 1.0 world, we have a million logins, dozens of different applications that don’t work together, we use Google to sift for information across a zillion sites, and we accept all of this.

That said, whoever can make the leap of where the Web will be in the next paradigm will go, and solve these big problems, will be the next Bill Gates ;)

Related aside: I’m curious why none of the social networks has actually widgetized themselves and syndicated them to other sites. They are definitely very "walled garden," even Facebook, and want to retain all the traffic inside of themselves. Another way to approach this is for Facebook or MySpace or one of the big players to add all of the Facebook functionality to their sites, but the data is kept on Facebook servers. That’d be a pretty disruptive thing if you felt you could control the gateways for social communication between many different websites.

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