Thursday, June 13, 2013

Putting the Social back... and forth

In the year 2006 'google' was officially declared a verb in Oxford Dictionary and Merriam Webster. But startups have not given up on building search engines. That same year Facebook opened its doors to users over the age of 13, preparing for exponential growth spurt. The list of startups working on yet another social network and lining up to present their sites at Silicon Valley New Tech Meetup kept growing too. And so were the crowds attending the meetups - as everybody wanted to see the next Google or Facebook. Or get a free pizza.

In 2009, it looked like both search and social bubbles were bursting. At least judging by the pitches and taglines. Favorite startup words now were mobile, twitter and monetization. 2009 was, indeed, the year of mobile, twitter... and ponzi schemes. It was the year when Waze Mobile launched internationally and Tumblr released their iPhone app. 

But the Social Digital era has only just begun.  Web was still ripe for more social experience and new startups were fighting for the audience, and fighting against the audience fatigue. The question was whether they could build a business off that audience or whether that audience will be worth an acquisition by the likes of Google or Yahoo. 

From dancing in the 90s to clicking in the 2010s
Shifting focus of social networks, as judged by the SVNEWTech pitches 
The common uses of social networking are promotion (personal or business-related), learning and entertainment. Text was the starting point for broadcasting and marketing ourselves via the Internet. Technologies were evolving and, as shown in the graph below, so were audio- and visual features of social networks, until they merged into video and movie-sharing capabilities.  GPS-enabled smartphones gave rise to location-based services and networks focused on "local" - places, rideshares and travel information. Networks could serve as a self-updating address book and their purpose was shifting from keeping in touch with old friends to finding new ones, increasingly focusing on finding business partners and opportunities. Startups were transitioning from virtual worlds to virtual goods, becoming less interested in just chatting vs learning something useful, and more interested in handling money - from social lending, to fundraising and "helping retailers to serve us better". 

What's next? Despite the challenging funding climate, Silicon Valley startups will keep trying new things, mixing and matching new needs and technologies. After all, the combinations provide endless choices, and the possibilities are endless. 


Cantor M, & Whitehead H (2013). The interplay between social networks and culture: theoretically and among whales and dolphins. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 368 (1618) PMID: 23569288

Panek, Elliot T., Yioryos Nardis, and Sara Konrath. "Defining social networking sites and measuring their use: How narcissists differ in their use of Facebook and Twitter." Computers in Human Behavior 29.5 (2013): 2004-2012.

Doreian, Patrick, and Frans Stokman, eds. Evolution of social networks. Vol. 1. Routledge, 2013.

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