That’s understandable. Social media moves like a cheetah on rocket skates, and for some social-media marketing professionals, being able to predict the Next Big Thing can mean attention, caché and credibility. For others, it’s not a professional drive so much as a fascination with what’s new and hip — akin to being a fan of a band without a record deal or raving about a little hole-in-the-wall diner nobody’s ever heard of. And some folks are still pining for that perfect social network, the one that just does everything right.
The trouble is that there is no Next Big Thing — at least, not yet. Facebook isn’t showing any signs of a MySpace-style collapse. Location-based networks are still limited by smartphone-adoption rates. And as for Google’s long-rumored social-network project — let’s just say I’ve been burned by Google before, and I’ll believe it when I see it.
So forget about the Next Big Thing. What you want to be looking out for are the Awesome Little Things — networks with specialized functions, unique features and cool underlying technology that may not have the mass appeal that Facebook does but still have the capacity to push the social-media sphere to a new level. These are the networks that have the potential to drive consumer demand, inspire the big boys and maybe even be integrated into a more popular network via a buyout.
Here are a few of the networks I’m watching. I’m not saying these guys are all going to turn the industry on its ear. But they’re all trying to push things forward, rather than just cash in on another network’s success.
- Diaspora: Of all these Awesome Little Things, Disaspora has the most buzz by a country mile. The pitch is that it’s an open-source social network that allows users total control over their information. Since grabbing headlines last spring, information about the network has been fairly scarce. That’s about to change, as Diaspora is set to officially launch on Sept. 15. Privacy is obviously the big hook here, but it will be interesting to see if the site’s feature set is robust enough to provide a compelling Facebook alternative.
- AllMyBiz: I confess, I do not love the name, but I love the idea — a social network that makes it easy to partition your personal and professional lives. A lot of people (myself included) neglect either Facebook or LinkedIn because we just don’t have the bandwidth to fit in another network. The ability to separate my professional life (journalism, content aggregation, e-mail newsletters) from my after-hours pursuits (running, video games, homemade pickles) without a lot of fuss makes a lot of sense to me. Sadly, it’s still in closed beta.
- Face2Face: Whenever I hear someone object to location-aware social networks, the word “creepy” invariably comes up. And lets face it, there are certain risks that come with choosing to broadcast your location. But I like the possibility of serendipity that comes with location-based networks. Everyone likes to unexpectedly bump into a friend — at a party, in an airport, on the street — and Face2Face makes that more likely by telling you when someone you know is nearby, without actually telling you exactly where they are. That way, if you’d like to make plans to meet, you’ve got avenue for doing so — and if not, you can always pretend you didn’t get the message in time.
- Pip.io: Like Diaspora, part of Pip.io’s pitch is that it’s easy to control your privacy settings. But what I like about the network is the way it focuses content around actual conversations. In many ways, it’s like a combination of Twitter and old-school message boards. The ability to push updates out to Twitter doesn’t hurt.
- Grouply: I totally understand why Ning got rid of its free option — it was the right move for that company. But not all Ning users could afford to keep their own specialized social networks going under the new pay system. For those people, there is Grouply. I’m not sure Grouply competes with Ning’s feature set, but the price is definitely right.
- Scoop: Remember when Facebook was “thefacebook” and you had be in college to join? Yeah, me too. Those were the days, right? Well a new generation of studious youngsters is set to get their exclusive network, in the form of Scoop. What sets Scoop apart from old-school Facebook is the new network’s mobile angle. With investment dollars coming from Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s TomorrowVentures, Scoop is showing a lot of promise, though, like a lot of networks on this list, it’s still not open to the public.
What little-known social networks are you excited about?
Image credit: thesuperph, via iStockphoto