A broad array of online players, from major media companies like Viacom to e-commerce providers such as eBay, are adding networking features to their online destinations, letting users create detailed Web identities, connect with people over common interests, share content, and, above all, socialize.Hmmm ... how is this new? Hasn't eBay had social networking features for a long time? Granted they are being enhanced, but still. And doesn't Flickr (images), del.icio.us (bookmarks), etc. all have a social networking aspect to them?
The point is that its probably natural for lots of sites to have social networking type features and functions for visitors. This is something we are commonly doing on sites today. You certainly need to ask the question, but again, I'm not sure this is new. It's more that sites are recognizing the value proposition.
The article does point out that as many more sites add social networking features, the issue of everyone dealing with many different split social networks is going to be problematic. Unless I'm really passionate about the content or site, I'm personally not going to bother with the social networking aspects. But, if your content or your audience is particularly passionate, you really need to consider providing the capability.
But I've found myself a bit unsure about some of the responses this article has generated. For example, in Social Networking is a feature, not a destination, Chris Anderson tells us:
I'm sure huge and generic social networking destinations will continue to do well, but I'm placing my bet on the biggest impact coming when social networking becomes a standard feature on all good sites, bringing community to the granular level where it always works best.I sort of agree. Certainly, niches offer an opportunity to leverage social networking capabilities, but I think that there are really big risks right now for any site because you need critical mass and passion to be successful. I actually think that Facebook and Ning are heading in the right direction by becoming platforms for social networking solutions. I'm not sure if these are going to win or if something a bit lower level will win, but someone has to provide a means for us to share our profile and social network activity across our niche sites so that we can lower the barrier of participation. Thus, the platforms are going to be the big winners. The rest of us will build off of it. This avoids the The joys of re-entering data!
George Siemens agrees with my assessment about the need for platforms or aggregation, but tells us in Scaling the Social Web that as for the large social networking sites, he's:
tried them all (facebook, myspace, bebo, orkut, linkedin, twitter, etc.) and then resume the more ad hoc mixture of blogs I've been using for many years. Quite simply, social networking sites require a high level of commitment.
Again, I'm not so sure I agree. Facebook maybe represents a new way to stay in touch with folks, but it doesn't take much time and it really becomes a different way to email. LinkedIn requires even less ongoing work and is a FANTASTIC resource when you are looking for expertise. It's somewhat a fire and forget. Sure you can get sucked in and waste a bunch of time, but these tools mostly provide value for very little time invested.
I agree with George around blogs being a great learning and networking tool. But, its quite a different thing from social networking tools.