Monday, March 16, 2009

Passive Publishing: Social Networks and the New e-Mail

This weekend's South by Southwest festival attendees heard from social networking founders and experts, who said status updates and social networks "are the new e-mail."

The major issue with social networks, according t most experts lately, is how to monetize them, and that depends largely on knowing how members use them and what they use them for. At the South by Southwest festival, speakers seemed to agree that social networks were replacing e-mail. The basic template for social networks is the status box ("What are you doing?") at the top, followed by an inbox feed, and surrounded by contacts, their status and updates, and other folders.

David Sacks, founder of the business social network, Yammer, said, "What people want to do on social networks these days is post status updates. We think it's all people want to do." Gmail creator and FriendFeed founder, Paul Buchheit, added, "...it's a new form of communication;: not quite e-mail, more lightweight and 'real-time,' often with a little bit of a publishing flavor to it."

Sacks called social networks "e-mail 2.0" and many experts agree, noting that social networks allow you to "passively publish" things (such as your status) with which visitors can interact. Previously, you would have drafted an e-mail then chosen the contacts to send it to, without even knowing whether or not they cared to read it. "It's no coincidence that these products are all looking like e-mail," Sacks said.

Though they were all lumped-together for this discussion, it's inaccurate to consider Facebook and FriendFeed the same; FriendFeed is little more than a feed aggregate, where Facebook is the whole shebang. Still, it fits the criteria for inclusion in this discussion and is certainly a player in the field.

Feed aggregates may well be "e-mail 2.0," but I don't think they will ever replace actual e-mail, nor will it replace blogging. Business applications are pretty straightforward: keeping track of employee/participants' activities while working on a project - basically citing their online sources and being able to trace things back to their roots - though they are somewhat limited. Socially, they are fantastic for keeping-up with friends' interests and activities, as well as learning more about someone whose feed you have access to. Of course, aggregated feeds can be abused - companies using them like cookies to track their employees' every move online or stalkers using them to help harass their victims - but what can't be?

Social networking continues to be at the forefront of Web 2.0, and as this discussion proves, Web 2.0 is largely about aggregation.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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