We all live in a civilization where we require each other for sustainability purposes. Thus the desire to network is as old as humanity and online social networking sites do seem to solve a need that is different from simply using email, chat and blogging tools separately. However the idea that there will be one big social network platform is the purest form of nonsense. The Internet is just a platform.
We all attempt to generalize theory so that its application is easy. As yet we have looked at this from the psychology point of view and even more from the marketing angle. Now we should look at it from the Human resource angle at the different types of human networks and the motivations that drive them. There seem to be two distinct types of motivation. One is ‘communication with existing friends and acquaintances’ and second is ‘increase your visibility i.e. from a business perspective’.
This also fits in with classic consumer marketing theory around lifestage/lifestyle patterns (which simply says that you sell different things in different ways to students, new parents, retirees and so on). The danger in a lot of the current talk about Facebook or Orkut or Linkedin is that it is all written by and about two consumer types – students and web 2.0 entrepreneurs, who seem to have forgotten that there, are other types of people too.
Open Networks vs. Gated Communities
Students and web 2.0 entrepreneurs are much more motivated by increasing visibility; they need visibility to get dates and deals. When you are young, you leave the family and want to make friends and form new relationships. When you start working you need to get the trust and attention of the people who already have what you want (fame, fortune, etc.).
In other networks, trust is more critical and these will therefore be more like “gated communities. Thus the name gated where you can enter only with permission. However, I completely get why models might want a gated community and don’t want other people lurking around. Is that a huge media play? No, but it does fulfill a basic need and it could be a viable niche business. This is classic “specialty enthusiast publishing” and that is a multi-billion dollar market.