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Everybody likes to speculate about which social network is “better” or will “kill” the others.
I used to engage in such speculation, too. But recently I’ve come to believe that not only will the Big Three -- Facebook, Google+ and Twitter -- survive and thrive indefinitely, but that it’s a good thing they will.
I’ll go even further: I hope the fourth social network, MySpace, can be somehow turned around and brought back to growth.
Why? Because we need it. That's right. I said it: The world needs MySpace (or something like it).
The conventional wisdom is that the existence of multiple popular social networks is problematic because it divides people. You want to be on Google+, but your colleagues are on Twitter and family on Facebook. And that fact compels you to use all three, which is less convenient than using just one.
But the idea that one social network will “win,” and the others “fail,” is based on a false assumption: That they all serve the same purpose or audience, and that differences are merely qualitative.
Sure, some social networks are better managed, have better privacy and other policies and are better designed than the others. But none of them is perfect.
Facebook is cluttered, confusing and has horrible privacy policies. Google+ is a diamond in the rough, promising but conspicuously unfinished. Twitter constantly crashes, for some reason. And MySpace is poorly managed and bleeding members.
Still, the best case scenario is not one social network, but four.
The truth is that choosing your main social network is really a "social personality" test: Each of the four networks -- Facebook, Google+, Twitter and MySpace -- is best for each of the four kinds of social personalities.
Take the Social Personality Test OK, let’s say you only get to attend one social event each year. Which of the following options would you pick?
1) Combination family reunion and high school reunion in your home town.
2) Cocktail party at Christopher Hitchens’ Washington D.C. apartment, attended by intellectuals, authors, entrepreneurs and political movers and shakers.
3) Big dinner in the Beverly Hilton ballroom attended by the top people in your industry with several amazing speakers, and you're one of them.
4) New York City nightclub, where you’ll drink and dance all night.
Your choice of social events reveals your best option for a social network.
You’ve probably already guessed which social event preference is associated with what social network: 1) Facebook; 2) Google+; 3) Twitter; and 4) MySpace.
If you picked event 1, then Facebook is clearly your best option for a social network. Your home town may not be the greatest city on earth, but it’s where your people are, so that’s where you want to be. You just want to stay more connected to the people you already know. You're a Hometown Hero.
If you picked event 2, then you love ideas and great conversations with interesting people. Nobody has better conversations than Google+. You're an Idea Conversationalist.
If you want to stay in broadly in touch with what's happening in your areas of interest -- or want to keep others in touch with what you're doing and thinking -- then Twitter is a good option. You're interested in being informed with the latest facts. You're an In-the-Looper, and maybe a Self-Promoter.
And if you just want to have fun, and would rather communicate about who you are, rather than about ideas or current events, and are mainly interested in music and popular culture, then MySpace is -- or should be -- a good choice. You're a Party Animal.
This social personality test is very simple. Unfortunately, the reality of social networking is more complicated -- and so is the reality of social personality.
As 4chan founder Chris Poole pointed out this week at the Web 2.0 Summit, most people have multifaceted personalities.
People want great conversations AND to keep up with family and friends, for example. The good news is that it's increasingly possible to use one network, and still keep in touch with the people on the others using automated tools.
Google+, which is the most flexible of all the social networks, can be used as an interface for Twitter and Facebook. All the social networks enable you to be notified by email or SMS. And tools like Seesmic Desktop give you a dashboard to all your social networks.
So options exist that save you from having to constantly log in to multiple services all the time.
Another problem is that MySpace isn't considered an option by many of the people it's best designed for. The service has failed to evolve and adapt in the past few years (OK, New Corps actively damaged MySpace through incompetence), so members are still leaving.
MySpace is currently owned by an advertising company called Specific Media. Singer and actor Justin Timberlake is also an "owner," but this looks more like a kind of sponsorship-driven publicity stunt than an investment.
As a result of the failure of MySpace to innovate in the past few years, the Party Animals have been set adrift, showing up on all three of the other major networks.
From an industry perspective, there's a big opportunity still for someone to create what MySpace should be -- a gathering place for the Party Animals who want to communicate with each other through impressions and style, rather than reasoned discourse, and one that revolves around music and popular culture.
(Personally, I'd love to see MySpace founder Tom Anderson buy it back and resurrect it.)
There's also a potential trap for the other networks, who will be tempted to be all things to all people, and ruin what would otherwise be a good thing.
The best social network is the one that specializes in one of the four social personality types.
This is best for all concerned, by the way. If you're, say, a Google+ Idea Conversationalists, you want the Party Animals to have somewhere else to go. And if you're a Party Animal, the last thing you want is some Debbie Downer dragging the party down with boring chatter about some TED video.
In the meantime, let's give the social network-killer talk a rest. Not only is the dominance of a single social network unlikely, it's also undesirable.