This WSJ piece by Jessica Vascellaro is talking about a clear trend in social networking – noting that we’ve passed the “teen early adoption” phase and entered the professional phase where pretty much everybody will eventually participate in social networking of one form or another.
To filter the noise this social networking will increasingly take the form of highly targeted groups in thousands of interest niches. In fact this may transform socializing from the current scene to a world where most of your friendships are begun online and then extended in the real world.
Facebook’s future is tied up in how this shakes out. If they succeed and become “the” general social network where you can branch out into specific niches even Google’s current level of success may pale in comparison. However, unlike Robert Scoble, I’m not enamored enough with Facebook to think this will happen and these social aps will eclipse Google. Rather I think the “killer application” has yet to be fully structured but will take the form of a robust, transportable, avatar laden, secure personal ID that you can modify easiy and then use to navigate the increasingly socialized internet. As you visit websites this identity, all aspects of which remain under your own control, will allow other users to interact with you and branch off to your pictures, blog, or other items you choose. Ultimately we’ll be able to interact online *far more effectively* than offline thanks to the reservoir of information (pictures, blogs, notes, comments, emails, video) many of us now pour online regularly.
One gets a glimpse of this by some of the early efforts like OpenID, bbAuth or Microsoft unified logins, or noting how Facebook cleverly allows the user to import blog posts to their facebook account. Thus somebody looking at my Facebook profile also is “linked” to my blog posts without much effort. Unfortunately, however, I have perhaps 100x the number of “active” real world contacts than I have “friends” in Facebook. This may change, but I’m guessing that many people will never want to maintain much of an online identity, but almost everybody *would* want an application that would help them share and interact with others as they surf.
OpenID is the most promising approach theoretically, but it’s not taking off because there’s no big money to be made which I think has kept away the robust innovations needed for online identity solutions to really take off.