What does the future hold for mega social networks?
Published Friday, June 15, 2012 5:57PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 15, 2012 6:03PM EDT
While mega social networks are ideal for connecting with the masses, social media experts say users are beginning to look for a more personal online experience.
Changes to Facebook and Google+ give social networkers complete control over who can see each photo, video, status update and anything else that’s shared online.
“Part of the shift is people are discovering they would like to have a Facebook for people who are closer to them,” said Mitch Joel, a social media heavyweight and president of Montreal-based digital marketing firm Twist Images.
Joel said mega social networks are ideal for connecting with acquaintances, but not necessarily your inner circle.
Vancouver-based blogger Kris Krug agrees.
“Compared with hanging out, talking on the phone and Skyping, Facebook is less personal, less intimate, more wrought with misunderstanding and miscommunication,” he said.
Krug points to social networking site Path, which markets itself as a personal environment designed for close friends and families and limits each of its two million users to 150 connections, as an example of a more tight-knit community.
However he said recent changes to Facebook, the introductionof “close friends” and “family” lists for example, are giving users a new level of privacy, control and comfort online.
Krug added that as social networks continue to grow at a rapid pace, there’s plenty of room for new players.
Pinterest, for example, has amassed 10 million users since launching last September with daily visits to the site increasing by 145 per cent since the beginning of the year, according to TechCrunch.
“I think putting these networks in competition or in contrast with one another might be a mistake,” said Krug, who was recently named most inspiring social media user during the West Coast Social Media Awards. “Just because you have a big social network like Facebook with 5,000 friends doesn’t mean you also don’t want a private place to share things with your family and people close to you.”
Toronto-based social media expert and tech journalist Mark Evans said he’s starting to see interest rise in smaller social networks that are more focused. “If you’re into karaoke, moustaches or goth, there’s a social network for you.”
However, Evans has yet to see a real threat to the mega social networks.
“I think people tend to party where the party is happening. In other words, most people don’t want to join a social network that doesn’t feature many other people because there are far fewer opportunities to network and connect.”
Social media experts say the proliferation of smartphones has had a profound effect on social networking as the opportunity to connect continues to grow.
“Everyone always has the Internet in their hand. This is going to lead to a lot more time spent online and wanting to share with even more connections,” said Krug.
A March study released by Internet marketing research firm comScore showed Canadians are spending an average of 45 hours a month on social networking and entertainment sites, nearly double the global average and six hours more a month than Americans.
The report also noted that social networking sites and blogs are the second most popular mobile sites accessed by Canadians via smartphones, following news and information sites.
With the ability to post snapshots of your life becoming virtually effortless, the mounds of photos, videos and passing thoughts stored on these networks’ databases skyrockets.
According to Facebook, more than 100 million photos are uploaded to the site every day.
Joel said social networkers are slowly creating an “encyclopedia” of their lives online.
“Would you like to have pictures of your entire life published for the world to see? There are definitely picturesof me from high school that I would not like to have published. But the truth of the matter is that’s what we’re doing, and we’re doing it in a way that’s affecting others not just ourselves. We’re taking pictures of friends, family, locations and that becomes a historical flow over time. That is who you are.”
Privacy settings on social networks allow users to control what’s public and what isn’t, but Joel warns that could change at any time.
“They’re a business, they’re not a social cause. And if they should ever decide to change that policy and make that content more public or more accessible, you don’t have much of a say.”