Investor’s Business Daily newspaper recently published an interesting article on social networking. The article* essentially talks about how MySpace and Facebook have attracted the bulk of the traffic to their sites and explores existing niche opportunities for other social networking sites.It got me thinking: how many social networks are sustainable in the market? When will the market become saturated? According to Hitwise, the number of social networking websites or sites with social networking features has risen 40% over the last year to 4,721 sites. Days ago, Ning announced a new milestone of 100,000 user-created social networks, up from 30,000 in February. When Ignite launched TagWorld in 2005, we collectively ribbed that it was social network site #101. Even back then we knew the company was “late to the party.” But TagWorld had a technological advantage that gave it the ability to leapfrog others; It is now serving as the foundation for MTV’s new foray into social networking. Since 2005, there have been countless other social networking sites catering to older folks, people looking to lose weight, music aficionados, etc. After we helped TagWorld get on the map, Ignite began working with Multiply, a site with a different twist—focused on relationship-based relevancy, ie: real friends and family not virtual buddies.Multiply has succeeded by focusing on their differentiators (privacy, relevancy, and cutting-edge communication features) and is now at the doorstep of becoming a top 100 internet site.
Given Google’s ability to become the leader in search despite facing a saturated market, there’s always a remote possibility for some future social networking contender to usurp MySpace or Facebook. But by and large, the social networking ecosystem for “pure-play social networking sites” has indeed begun to settle with increasingly less room to wedge in and carve out a piece of the social networking pie. Here’s how the landscape seems to have taken shape:
- Leading pure-play social networking sites (roughly 10 million uniques or above)
- Niche-focused social networking sites (music, travel, weight, cooking, singles, exclusive, etc.)
- Age-focused (children, tween, teenager, young adult, adult, senior)
I think there is little opportunity for a brand new upstart (short of one that truly is outstanding) to muscle in against more established players that have already gained a solid user-base (multi millions) and have had a few years to become entrenched. Having said that, since social networking has become the standard for how we increasingly interact with others, I believe we will continue to see a mushrooming of exiting internet sites, newer sites and future ones, none of which are social networking sites per say, introduce a social networking feature/component.As we look ahead, 4,721 sites with social networking features is likely just the tip of the iceberg. (*Disclosure, Ignite facilitated partially with client references for the IBD article.)