March 03, 2007

Hmmm. Social Networking news ...

Cisco buying Tribe's tech. People are confused.

Meanwhile Ning seems to have decided to reinvent itself as ... erm ... Tribe : a generic build-your-own-social-network site.

Me, I'm confused too. And more than that, I'm disappointed by the Ning change. Taking a quick look at the site, it seems to have utterly disowned the previous "social development environment" incarnation of Ning, handing over that mantle to Yahoo Pipes.

OK, I half understand : maybe the business model wasn't working. Not everyone is, or wants to be, a programmer, and Ning didn't get the kind of traction of a MySpace or YouTube. Nor was it likely to.

Faced with that predicament, my suggestion to Ning might have been to pitch it as a white-label development tool for third-party resellers : small agencies who are creating web-sites or intranets for other companies. Or maybe something to do work on enterprise intranets. However they clearly wanted something else.

Now what we've got looks suspiciously like Tribe given a makeover by 37 Signals.

Which is mysterious. I'm a member of Tribe, and I like it very much. But it's widely considered to be a "failure" in the YASN market. What makes Ning think that the business model is viable? Or that they can make it work?

One thing that occurs to me, maybe this is really the old Ning in disguise. Perhaps a lot of social development stuff is there behind the scenes, and this is simply wrapping it in something that looks more familiar to the general public. That would make some sense, use "make your own tribe" to draw in people who wouldn't have dared go near the old Ning, but then just happen to have a bunch of Ning-apps. sitting around which can be add to these networks. And which the more curious users could learn to customize and share.

However, having gone to play around a bit, that doesn't seem to be the case with the new Ning. Contrariwise, it looks like history has been ruthlessly rewritten; Ning was allegedly founded in October 2004 to give everyone the opportunity to create social networks. The old Ning was full of "HotOrNot" style comparison games and mashups with Google Maps. But while the new Ning allows you to add discussion forums, photos and videos to your tribe social network, hotornots and mashups are conspicuously absent.

Maybe the developers' docs will cast more light on things. You can still program stuff, but there's no hint of users sharing their code with each other, which was the really interesting part of the old system.

So why does Cisco want Tribe's code? Beats me. Speculating wildly, maybe there's something to do with convergence in the home between television, internet, entertainment etc. And maybe the next step beyond BitTorrent peer-sharing and You Tube is some kind of private P2P video sharing within social networks, so that tribes become an organizing principle for video, rivaling television channels.

But that's speculating wildly ...

Anyway. I'm a member of several YASNs but only two mean anything to me : Tribe and Linked-In. I joined Linked-In years ago, and pretty much forgot about it. It's a pretty inert sort of service. I wouldn't think about it or visit the site at all except that people I know keep joining it and linking to me. I've started to come to the conclusion that there's something rather interesting about this extremely slow social network. Most importantly, it's all about the world outside the web and outside web-time. You don't go there, don't do anything with it. But slowly and surely the network keeps accreting more ex-colleagues at the glacial pace of 4 or 5 a year.

That's all it does. But it's more succesful at that than anything else. I tried to recruit my IRL friends to Tribe. But only a couple of the more web-oriented ones bothered to join. Yet people who have no time or inclination to be on the web keep turning up on Linked-In. Whereas Tribe is great for meeting new people and having valuable conversations, Linked-In turns out to be great for reconnecting and tracking "old" people. I guess it's the combination of seriousness and undemandingness; people join it who have no time for web-culture and who are scared to become involved in the more active YASNs.
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