Niche Social Networking is Networking that Works

Niche Social Networking with Mark CahillI’ve been saying for over a year that there is a limit to the places I want to network with people, and I’m going to go one step further right now: there are a whole lot of people out there I am not interested in networking with.

There, I said it. It’s not that I hate people, it’s just that for the most part I have little interest in the generic style networking that’s offered by Facebook, and in my estimation, it’s lesser brethren, LinkedIn and MySpace. Call me a snob, but I’d like to have something in common with the folks I’m going to network with, and frankly I’d like to have that commonality reach a little deeper than computer ownership and a willingness to share banality over the web.

The shine if off the first round of Social Networking, and it’s not going to come back. I’m not the only one who’s realized it either. You see, Social Networking for Social Networkings sake is a waste of time. The truth is, it’s a tool that as web developers we should be deploying where appropriate.

I believe that ’08 is going to see the rise of niche social networking. A place were the tenets of social networking find real traction in niche spaces, by users who share that common thread, be it cycling, classic cars, fly fishing, whatever.

While Twittering still doesn’t make much sense to me, I can see that it would make a whole bunch of sense when I’m networked with my fly fishing buddies (like “I’m on a blitz of blues at Sagamore Beach right now” ). Online user groups make total sense to me when it’s applied to a classic car group, but an online group of people who simply live within 40 miles of me makes no sense if I’m not interested in dating (and I’m not). Think about it.

Niche Social Networking is like hanging out at your fishing club, while Mass Social Networking is like hanging out in a bus terminal – the two are totally different experiences.

I’ve been working with niche communities since 1995 – niche social networking is a winner.

More Reading: Gary Andrews

Value for the Few

Mukund Mohan had a great post hitting on the comment by Jason Calacanis:

“An absolute idiot with 10-20M users can make a ton of money. So, get to tens of millions of users and forget about money.”

Mukund points out that while Linked In has the 10 million users Jason mentions, but it provides very little value to most of the members. I’d even go one further in saying that many of us see it as a total drag.

I get a ton of updates, link requests etc. mainly from people I haven’t worked with in years, knew peripherally, or flat out wouldn’t consider working with ever again. In other words, I have very low grade contacts coming in through LinkedIn, yet I still have to deal with the incoming message traffic. Do I link to this one, etc. Why? Mainly out of fear that at some point I’ll look like a snob if I stop.

The best way to describe the feeling I get is to liken it to the jet fighter pilot from the Korean War. In the rush to the jet age, the techies tried to cram every possible device into the cockpit for him to use. The pilots quickly found that the best thing was go get up in the air and turn most of the blackboxes off, simply because they were a distraction from the main mission – not getting shot out of the sky and ending up digging a flaming crater in the ground.

But apparently Calacanis was really talking about Twitter – the darling of the tech set. Another on of those services that serves as proof of your “I get it” status. I’ve railed on it for over a year: I don’t want everyone in the world following my every move…

The truth may be that I just don’t get it. But the nice thing is that I don’t have to. There are enough means to communicate and to “join the discussion” out there that I’m free to choose the ones that work for me. And I have enough chatter in my life that I don’t need to add to the signal to noise ration by having you send up constant updates on what you’re doing every minute. Granted, I wish you well in it, but I don’t need to know that you’re getting your back waxed, or eating a Knish or any of that.

David Churbuck posted his stats for the past month on Twitter. I can’t help but think that most of the communication going on is marketeer to marketeer – not a whole lot of direct customer contact is going on there.

As Sgt. Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts, M’am.”

(Update: after pounding on Twitter, I decided to actually give it a try. You can see my tweets in the sidebar. I’m mncahill – follow me and I will lead you to banality…welcome to my life…)