Will Websites be the Social Networks of the Future?

By Daniel Scocco

I was thinking about this issue over the past few days, so I decided to put my ideas into written words. I am not sure if they will make sense, but let’s try.

Assumption One: Most people will want/need to have an online presence in the future

Notice that “future” here might be 10 or 20 years, we can’t know for sure. The assumption just requires this to happen somewhere in the future. It doesn’t matter when.

So the first assumption is basically stating that some day, most people will need to be on the web. This includes kids, teenagers, students, professionals, companies, institutions and so on. Different people will have different reasons to have an online presence, but most will have at least one reason to do so.

Assumption Two: People like to own their stuff

One of the problems with most social sites today is the fact that the users don’t own the sites. They don’t even own the individual contributions that they make.

Suppose you have a Twitter account where you publish hundreds of quick tips on a certain topic. After one year, if you wanted to export all those tips and publish them on your site, you wouldn’t be able to. Your account is owned by Twitter. On top of that, they also have the right to shut you down any time. Here is a quote from their Terms of Service:

We reserve the right to modify or terminate the Twitter.com service for any reason, without notice at any time

People like to own their stuff. If there was a checkbox saying “Do you want to own your Tweets?” when you were creating a Twitter account, I am pretty sure most people would check “Yes.”

Assumption Three: Technology will evolve, bringing social features to any website

If people like to own their stuff, how come they subject themselves to the terms of social sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter? How come they put work into something that they don’t own?

They do that because there are no alternatives. Yet.

If you want to connect with your school friends today, for example, you will inevitably need to join a social networking site.

But what if you could have all those features inside your own site and still own all the stuff that you would put online? For example, what if you could add micro blogging features to your website and send messages back and forth like you do on Twitter? What if you could create communities and groups of interests like you do on Facebook, but based on your own website?

I am not sure how we will accomplish that, but it could work.

The social aspect will be the same, the only difference is that it will be based on a scattered network of websites instead of on a single website with different user accounts.

What do you think?

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24 Responses to “Will Websites be the Social Networks of the Future?”

  • Rarst

    I honestly have no idea how online social stuff will evovle, especially considering most of implementations and suggested usage models make me sick (hoarding Twitter followers jumps to mind).

    People are talking for years how network going to destroy office life worldwide. Maybe when social interaction will get freed from happening in enforced scenarios (school, university, work, etc) then Internet will provide something meaningful.

    So far it is same people looking to make or waste time and money online. No matter what the latest big online thing is. Not much social about it.

  • Kurt Avish

    I prefer assumption 2. I always say that even though I like twitter and I use use for fun and to stay connected, its still not mine. I for instance like to own my things!

    While we are all using and contributing to the other sites… these are nothing for us. We can’t claim what we have contributed as you mentioned.

    And the worst if ever these companies or sites close down (nothing is predictable in life) its like everyone lose his contribution.

  • Blog Expert

    I would like something to be mine like Twitter.

  • Hack

    Assumption Two is totally true, many people want to have own website, but people are lazy. There will always be those who will prefer to use social sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twittee more
    than to invest their efforts to create own website

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Kurt, keep in mind that those are not scenarios, but assumptions.

    In other words, it is not either one or the others, but rather all 3 of them happening together.

  • Paul K. Bisson

    Equitable assumptions, Daniel. A possible realization might be open source applications that mimic social network features and can be applied to personal websites. But Hack is right: people are lazy. Perfect, do-it-yourself website creation must become the marriage of high-end features and drag-and-drop simplicity.

  • Jaan Kanellis

    Considering how websites are already act like blogs, which in themselves are inherently socialized I would have to answer yes. Websites will be in themselves social networks.

  • Adam Pieniazek

    Hmmm, but Daniel one of the great aspects of social networks is that they are a hub, a central repository to find your friends and family and post updates to all of them at the same time.

    Honestly, I don’t want all my friends to abandon facebook, start blogs and then expect me to keep track of 500+ feeds, in addition to the feeds I already read. That would be madness!

    I do think we’ll see more and more people starting up their own sites but they’ll likely continue to keep their memberships at social networks. In other words, social media may transfer into a directory which will pull our content from sites we own but it won’t completely disappear.

  • seo-top-guy

    traffic in my site mostly came from twitter and then the second one from facebook..

  • Boerne Search

    I like twitter. But this is true. If someone wants a page on themselfs, why not just make one and collect ad revenue yourself?

    Is it the cost, the templates. Maybe most peoples lack of HTML. I use them just for backlinks. Is that bad?

  • Wesley

    The amazing part of the way the internet has evolved: people will put large amounts of work into items that they don’t own at the end of the day. Some of these are considered more, “publicly,” owned, such as Wikipedia. Think how many people have put how many hours into Wikipedia articles — to share what they know with everyone else!

    And while our current social media sites are technically owned by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, we still feel relatively, “in-charge,” of our content, patrolling our walls, making the connections we wish to make, sharing information we wish to share.

    Generally speaking, we have a lot of control in that regard, and having given up some control. You don’t even have to be a member of Facebook or other sites to have pictures of you posted without your consent for almost anyone’s consumption. We are custodians of something we don’t own but are made to feel as if we have ownership and control over. Still, people can assert some control, as many times Facebook changes have been beaten back by popular demand.

    As technology evolves so that anyone can easily begin and maintain (we don’t seem that far off) a website and the built-in linkability and, “friending,” will probably follow. Thi might happen via widgets produced by sites like facebook, MySpace, maybe Google, joined by currently nonexistent web developers, easily embedded into the websites.

    As the same functions that are now on social sites become commonplace, we will probably see websites themselves take on (at least in certain areas) the same role as Facebook profiles, presumably complete with walls on which to put messages and information viewable only by people allowed to do so.

  • Gareth Murran

    Some aspect of semantic web technology is my guess. Bringing all the different sites together.

  • UPEIclassifieds

    I think that the biggest problem is that a social network website is gives users more convenience to visit only one place. I further think that the winner of this situation could be a social network that aggregates the social features from the privately owned websites.

  • Paula

    That makes sense, Daniel, especially as blogging software gets more and more simplified.

    Back in the day (around 2000 or so) only techies like Dooce and those who knew how to build websites from the ground up more or less were blogging.

    These days, not-necessarily-as-techie people can start their own sites easily with Blogger.

    So when a person’s Twitter feed blows up and gets crazy popular for whatever quirky reason (just look at the runaway success of a blog like I Can Haz Cheezeburger — who knew?) like blogs have in the past — and said popular person wants to own their own writing and make money off of it, they’ll see the advantage of owning your own content.

  • NeoBluePanther

    I don’t think I can agree with you on this one.

    I agree with the assumptions you make in your post, but the end result of that happening is that no site will stay on top for any length of time.

    As more and more people start to own “social networking like sites” everyone will be focused on the numbers on their own site, resulting in no numbers for any site.

    I think this phenomenon also causes the death of many sites that-could-have-been. To some extent, I think, even Twitter is being threatened by it, as people have begun to mindlessly follow people just to get those numbers up!

    But, that is just my opinion…

  • KFS

    Future is now.
    People using Internet through website as their social networks.
    Example like http://www.plentyoffish.com, is a free dating online website. lots of people using it for online dating.
    So in the future they still use it for dating.
    Answer to your question:
    I think,it’s absolutely Yes!

  • Diane L. Harris

    What a fabulous idea. I’d love to be able to microblog and post only on my own site(s) and be “hooked up” so that my info appears on the other sites I choose, like Twitter and facebook. I’m definitely no techie, but I think the this system could be designed right now. The delay would be in getting website creation to the point where “everyone” would feel comfortable taking advantage of such a system.

  • Leland Creswell

    Commenting IS microblogging. The divisions between comments, bulletin board posts, and blogs is rapidly shrinking.

  • dhoy seo services

    Ahhh… maybe…. now a days many people uses twitter, facebook etc.. in promoting blogs…

  • Paul

    Content ownership is my main concern. I try to own my content by producing it on my own sites. Before computers and the internet this was like sitting in my room drawing pictures or writing stories. Happy to share it via any medium or social network available as long as the source/original is kept safe for the future.

    Conversations are not a concern. Conversations can take part on Twitter, forums, Facebook, wherever. One day that service will die or we’ll all move on to something else and those conversations will be lost. But that is the nature of spoken conversations too, they exist where and when they happen but are then lost.

  • Eric

    I initially wanted to say yes. Yes people will want to own their own websites, especially if sites like facebook attempt to “own” other people’s photos.

    And yet, hosting, domain names, et al, will always cost something; and people always choose free over any cost, even if free comes with advertising.

  • Mr. Perella

    From a personal standpoint I see things heading more and more in a Twitter direction and hitting a critical mass. Following this I see a backlash happening on a wide scale which will produce a mass exodus from general social networking sites. The first signs, I believe, came with the popularization of knitting with a younger demographic.

    People will slowly return to social networking sites, but now their attention will be narrow and niche site will flourish.

    I also see sites like Plenty of Fish continuing to do well of the “Almost, but not exactly what I wanted” variety. As well as lists, surveys, and video sites. It’s the whole Cosmo principal at work. Do we need, “32 secret sex techniques to drive our partner wild” Or, “5 secrets that may be dooming your relationship right, now!”

    No, but I bet you’ll feel like reading them even if you do know better. Same thing with these sites.

    From a professional standpoint I see sites like LinkedIn becoming more important and almost mandatory for job seekers.

  • denny

    I can see social networks as a “utility” or common source of users and content flow that is then integrated into individual sites base on relevance of the conversations and user expressed interests. This would signal the end of search engines or radically change them.

    Once the “word-of-mouth” web takes hold. You will no longer use search engines to locate strange untrusted sites. Instead, you will head to your own related community and ask around to get review trusted referrals to resources that you need.

  • ravi

    traffic in my site mostly came from twitter and then the second one from facebook..

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