Future of Social Networks

Day 1 @ Graphing Social Patterns kicked off with a keynote by Charlene Li of Forrester Reseach.

Charlene aimed to paint a picture of social networks 5years out, as the consensus here at the conference is, social networking sites are still in their infancy, as to what they will one day become.  With plenty of challenges ahead, Charlene referenced these sites will one day become like “air” whereas where-ever you go, ‘they will be there’.

Things begin with a universal identity.  For a little background, identity has been a conversation point for the past year or so, with the emergence of social sites, so comes the management of your ‘profile’ within.  In other words, each site (until recently) managed user accounts internally, forcing users to re-create their account info inside each community.  The argument here is that users (consumers) should have the right to control their account centrally, (the latest flavor being through openID) whereas they can manage their online personas and exchange personal information between the multiple social communities they belong to.  Then of course come privacy, and who owns what data. This is where the plot thickens.

Charlene proposes a single universal identity, most likely an email address (as you may have multiple for various personas).  She went on to reference the Bill of Rights for users of the social web, and the responsbility providers have to protect the rights for users.

Charlene then went on to discuss the most popular applications within FaceBook, and how the trend is shifting from sheer application ‘activity’ to “engagement.”  Engagement becomes a more powerful characteristic, as marketers will pay to reach highly influential people, which is where she believes social networks are heading.  The next cross roads for social sites becomes data portability, which she believes will be resolved within 2008/2009 leading to ubiquitous social networks by 2013.

The final takeaway was for providers to begin developing applications that have meaning.  The most compelling social experience will attract the most influential users, which she believes is the ultimate prize.  Trust and authority are key.  The ability to integrate social networks into existing real-world activities, extending beyond the facebook “social graph” but rather your offline social-graph.  Needless to say, the future of Social Networks presents significant opportunities for application providers to fill needs still found in the real-world .

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