Thursday, September 11, 2003

Party Like It's 1999

I'm starting to get concerned about the Social Networking market. At this point, I've joined Ryze, Friendster, Tribe, and LinkedIn, and they're all mixed together in my mind.

I joined Ryze first, but it's done very little to suck me in, other than mailing me a weekly list of upcoming events. Perhaps the lack of activity is because the Ryze system doesn't notify me when someone else links to me as a friend.

As I've previously written, I joined Friendster after meeting Jonathan Abrams. Friendster's focus on dating distinguishes it from the other services, but it's precisely that focus that makes it less useful for old married guys like me.

Tribe.net seems to be an up-and-comer, thanks to its "fast-follower" status. It also has a more transactional focus, which helps keep my interest. The problem is, does it offer enough value to overcome other services' headstart? I also think that Tribe needs to show full names, not just first names and initials; otherwise it's too hard to find the people that you know.

LinkedIn has a number of interesting features (you can search by industry, and it sorts its list by who's most connected), and it seems to attract a high caliber of participants. Unfortunately, it has a huge flaw in that you cannot view other people's connections. This makes it impossible to use LinkedIn to meet your friends' friends--unless you know who you're looking for.

At any rate, my concern is that with so many entrants, mostly undifferentiated in any meaningful way, all of the potential value capture will be competed away. Back in 1999, it was hard to charge money for services when someone else was always willing to give it away to get eyeballs. The same thing seems to be happening today. It will be interesting to see what the uptake is of premium services.

The parallels to 1999 also point out that these companies just don't feel like independent ventures. Eventually, they should be integrated into a larger product suite, by Yahoo!, AOL, Microsoft, or even Amazon.

Nonetheless, they clearly are filling a useful niche, and I'm glad that they exist. My favorite service, however, is InCircle, the Stanford Alumni networking service, which, alas, isn't open to the general public.

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