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I’m a huge fan of niche social networks. I think Facebook is nearing complete uselessness unless it is the center of you and all your friends’ social lives. Why? Too general.
On the other hand, Ning.com has taken the tact of making really good social networks easy to put up. Effectively commoditizing the social network (as it should be) and forcing there to be a real purpose for the social network. Families, Alumni groups, soccer teams, music lovers, fan pages, you name it and Ning probably has network for it.
This is actually the ideal model. Niche social networks mimic real life more closely. You don’t have 1 social group do you? You have work people, college buddies, soccer team friends, neighbors, and only sometimes so these lives intersect. So why would there be only one social network?
I created OWC as a way to redefine a trade organization. Update it. Rather than a stuffy, meet once a year/quarter and have a newsletter organization, I wanted the wine world to benefit from meeting each other 24x7x365. I wanted to have an organization that could teach and evangelize and lead by example.
What I’m learning is that there is no replacement for offline meetups. Thats not to say new connections aren’t being made and value isn’t being created. On the contrary, that is happening in a big way! What I’m saying is that even with an online community there is great benefit to getting together on a regular basis. Just being out and giving a couple of presentations over the last couple of weeks helped me put faces to names and voice to faces. Not only that, the online community benefits as well – there was a huge traffic increase since my talks and a pretty big membership serge.
So, I wouldn’t say this is a surprise but a confirmation. Social networks are a compliment to organizations, not a replacement for interaction.