The end of social networking monopolies?

The impedance associated with building a network of connections within a social network is a huge risk to innovation on the Internet for two primary reasons:

  1. Existing networks have no incentive to innovate because they own the network.
  2. New companies struggle to survive in an ecosystem in which the network is monopolized by others.

To put it another way, the best case scenario for a truly innovative and interesting social network that doesn't suck is to attract a group of users approaching at most the size of Twitter (chosen because it is hugely popular, relatively new, and despite its success still seems to have hit a ceiling in growth). And if you are an innovator trying to build a serious business, that is simply not enough people.

The inability for an idea or product to compel its users to rebuild their network of friends will ultimately lead the idea fizzling. No matter how good the idea might be.

The other risk to innovation can be found in the example of MySpace. Here is a product whose soul value lies not in the software, which relative to other products is not truly that innovative, but in the network of people who use it everyday. Companies like this have no incentive to innovate or build a legitimately compelling product because their users are locked in.

But imagine what might happen to MySpace if users could one day wake up and move all of their friends to another service? Or perhaps more accurately keep the network of connections that exist on each service synchronized? All of sudden MySpace might actually have to start building a product that is compelling beyond the network itself.

Now imagine all the ideas out there that might have a leg to stand on if they could have access to a complete and publicly available network graph that they didn't need to compel their users rebuild?

This is why I think the project being incubated by Six Apart is so important. Glue, if successful, will build a completely Free, open and public social networking graph. It, just like OpenID, also invented by Six Apart, will be unencumbered by patents and corporate ownership. It will be given to the world for everyone to benefit from equally.

And the application of this resource extends a great deal beyond social networking. Once a graph has been built and relationships between individuals can be mapped then all sorts of possibilities emerge.

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