The New York Times reports that Cisco has acquired Tribe Networks in what appears to be an effort to become a player in the social networking space. The article quotes Marc Andreeson of NING, another social network facilitator, suggesting that the social networking biz is harder than it looks and Cisco will have problems. I agree Cisco will probably fail to do much with this but not for the same reason, but for the opposite. As with most internet stuff the technology difficulties are much less of a challenge than the social barriers to success.
Even Yahoo and Google – now brilliant masterpieces of technological sophistication – did not start out that way. Rather they began as fairly modest “websites” with a handful of programming routines that grew in usefulness, traffic, and complexity to become the internet behemoths they are today. Sure there’s a lot of amazing technology behind these companies, but I still think there is a sort of “techno bias” that remains pervasive both inside and outside the industy that is both fooling and manipulating people into thinking that success is mostly a function of your technology when it should be clear to all that it’s a function of the way your online environments relate to people, and that in turn is art not science. Is expensive, complex technology required to create a hugely popular, high traffic website? Of course NOT. Myspace and Facebook now use slick stuff, but they didn’t start out that way. PlentyofFish.com, a hugely popular dating site, still uses a *single* server and very basic technology despite the fact that it competes with big players working on platforms that probably cost 100x that of PlentyofFish’s.
I think the future will be like the past – successful sites will cater to the needs of people and bend the technologies as needed. Cisco, Ning, and other social networking technology platforms are great but they won’t define things. People will do that. People are, after all, what social networking is all about.