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Social networking panel discussion at DLD07: Facebook, Xing, aSmallWorld, and Mr Oetker

Posted by Annplugged on January 22, 2007

That was a very interesting bit about social networking sites, and I would like to give credit to the moderator also (Oliver Samwer), as such multifaceted conversations depend a lot on the quality of moderation. I think, this time it was pretty good. Instead of giving a summary on the panel discussion, the full video shot of which is available on Digital Life Design conference page I will only pick the thoughts on social networking sites I found most interesting.

All kinds of social networking sites, and changing
Probably the most important conclusion of the panel speakers was that there can be several types of social networking sites, serving different purposes, like specializing in different age groups, contents (note: potentially lucrative investment in energy/ green networking!), etc. One lady of the audience asked the panel how these sites are catering for the changing behavioral patterns, needs, interests of individual users? She cited Facebook and Linkedin as an example. If you are finished with student lifestyle and start working, will switch from Facebook student site to Linkedin professional site? I have found this a really exciting question. What will happen to ex-myspace users when they get over the ‘any moment in my life is worth being recorded’ period? Will myspace grow up with them or will the older ones find their new networking sites?

Facebook vs. MySpace
While MySpace is investing heavily in being ‘Cool!’ and also in technology, and the focus is on monetizing the site with all kinds of solutions, Facebook is concentrating more on offering an increasing number of useful functions, plus remaining a tightly-knit community where people actually meet in real life and only after then do they establish a new connection in the network. As for making money with Facebook, they are more into branding, as the way they see young students really find it important to express themselves though brands (Matt Cohler is VP Strategy & Business Operations at Facebook, and the DLD page forgot to mention that Matt resembles Agent Cooper in TweenPeaks (maybe the association was strengthened by the black suit image too)).

Protecting the network profile
Erik Wachtmeister is the founder of social networking aSmallWorld (150.000 members from 150 countries), where currently 6 webmasters decide on what is considered inappropriate behavior on aSmallWorld i.e. what to get rid of (yes, sth like ‘police’). He cited Orkut as an example of a social networking site that developed organically but changed direction so much that it actually got taken over by Brazilian teenagers communicating in Portuguese rather than English – instead of remaining a Silicon Valley community place. So putting together his words, it sounded like the 6 webmasters also ensure that aSmall World is not barbarically taken over and transformed into a chaotic monster pen. Matt Cohler from Facework said that they prefer to have the sub-communities of the whole network establish their own social norms. He also added that a million PVs per day makes it impossible to use human editors on the site (they have some technology for flagging).

Will Mr Oetker invest in any of these sites?
I think Dr Arend Oetker gave a reasonable reply, although being challenged in front of a bunch of digital-minded and tech-savvy people. His answer was ‘No’ and I suppose the reaction among the audience may have been ‘He does not know what he is missing out on.’ Mr Oetker was saying that he would rather “stick to his roots and his knowledge base, although the site representatives sounded intriguing.” I think it is a wise reaction, and not a flat refusal. He added “if you wanted to diversify, you would have to have partners, and very few partners, and only such ones that you can really trust. Try to choose different characters for partners and show respect for each other.” So he gave his personal advice, and I think it is sth to be appreciated (also to accept the challenge of DLD). The conclusion is that if he was approached with the idea of diversifying into social networking media he should be approached through one of his trusted partners. šŸ™‚ The question is which of his trusted partners can be approached in a different way (different from Mr Oetker’s), which of them has more expertise in marketing, media, is more risk-taking etc. If none of them, other investors are needed. That’s all.

Xing vs. Linkedin?

“Lars Hinrichs is co-founder and Managing Director of Xing, formally known as OpenBC… With his broad spectrum of activities and high level memberships in various organizations, e.g. the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), Lars has an excellent network of contacts worldwide. The idea of enabling networking between his contacts has inspired him to build up openBC.” (excerpt from the official DLD site). So as you can see it is sth like Linkedin based on business connections. Its business model is not based upon featuring targeted ads for users: its only source of income is subscriptions. Personally I do not believe in subscription fee, I expect to have some changes in the system (like headhunters being heavily charged in Linkedin). Lars encouraged everyone with a viable digital idea and a strong sense of entrepreneurship to stick to their ideas and go ahead with realization. He says there is money out there, they are only waiting for you to ask for it.

Let it be. And let that lucrative green social networking site be launched, truly crossing the borders, financed by giant corporate networks showing their responsibility.

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