August 29, 2008

Yahoo! (s)Mash(ed)

Yahoo! announced they are going to shut down Mash, the social networking site started less than one year ago.  Yesterday, Yahoo! sent a message to Mash’s users warning them to save all profile information somewhere else, since after September 29 Mash won’t be there anymore:  “we hope you had fun with it” and sayonara to everybody!
Mash is (or was…) a nicely designed SNS, it just got out there too late.  In fact, there is no more room for general/all-purposes SNSs.  Market’s needs have been saturated by Facebook (which is BTW celebrating its 100 Million users).
On Facebook, you can search and find most of the people you are in touch with… and eventually you keep more easily in touch with people who use it…
If you are wondering when was last time you e-mailed your old friend who is not on FB, the answer is: longer than others who are on FB: this just is one of the indirect effects of the Network Effect).
However, more and more professionals, teenagers and families keep in touch with Facebook.  A law firm is also recruiting on Facebook.
General SNSs (i.e. Facebook) have recently turned into an enriched version of a phonebook, and people use them just like one.
The value of a phonebook is inherently related to its completeness and distribution (AKA the Network Effect).  In the SNSs case, both completeness and distribution rely on users activity, which is costly.  O.k., filling user’s profile, adding friends and uploading pictures may be fun too, but doing it multiple times may become an hassle.  Anyway, swinging from a SNS to another is time consuming and there isn’t really reason to do it.
On the other hand, some SNSs are pursuing another strategy to gain a spot in the market, namely specialization.  Facebook’s internal networks or groups are not specific enough to satisfy users' needs.  Sometimes, the features of a SNS just don’t match a specific purpose or taste of its users. 
Thus, people who share a common interest, or come from a certain location tend to aggregate around a specialized SNS.  There are plenty of examples.
MySpace (which is still growing) is gradually specializing in music.  Its users share an interest in famous as well as emergent bands’ productions.  Thus, the features available for users’ profile customization match this purpose.  Flickr is another good example: it is more than a photo sharing, is an active community of photographers.  Thus, the quality/dimension of the pictures you can up/download is way superior to other SNSs.  Orkut, of the Google family, is well established in a few countries (e.g. Brazil), where it is much bigger than Facebook.  In fact, Orkut benefited of FB’s initial language deficiency and enjoyed a first comer advantage.
Therefore, SNSs new trends will be driven by the ability to interpret the concept of a hub, where people may find features and design able to satisfy an unexploited aggregating element.  And of course, a huge amount of luck…

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