Social Networking for Sale

I’ve been talking with different clients about building social networking sites. What I’m hearing more is the interest in specialized or vertical social networks (VSNs). Then what I hear is “so, how much would it cost to build a web 2.0 social network for <insert niche here>?” The answer is: it’s getting cheaper all the time. The second, less-expected answer? That cheaper-to-build social networking sites isn’t necessarily good news for would-be MySpace killers.

Interestingly, I noticed that mashable had a link indicating that ruduzu, the “anti-social networking site”, is for sale. The winning bidder gets all the code, the existing community (all 273 of ’em), and one year of hosting. So far the bid is up to $3,800 with 15 days to go, so it’s possible that potential MySpace killers can get their very own social site for well under $10,000!

I do think that plug & play social networking features (social widgets?) might be more popular in 2007. TechCrunch already talked about a comment system that could be quickly embedded in any site. I blogged about Plaxo’s Address Book Widget making it easy to add all your buddies to a new social web site (and I wouldn’t mind being able to import actual buddies from other social networks, too). So I’m sure we’ll see other widgets (instant photo gallery! instant blog! instant buddy list!) this year, along with a huge crop of rapidly developed (and probably rapidly abandoned) “web 2.0” sites.

Thus comes my real point — I think the base technology is becoming more of a commodity. I believe it’s getting easier than ever to develop software and web sites, and developers are more reluctant to reinvent the wheel. Which IMO means two things

  • the barrier to entry for crappy “me too!” sites will continue to get lower
  • the differentiators will be (as in the past):
    • continual improvement & innovation
    • ability to raise and manage capital
    • ability to market and make deals
    • ability to serve up interesting content 
    • hard, continued work

So in 2007, if you wanted to knock out a quick & dirty MySpace clone in a few weeks, you probably could. You could make a Google Maps mashup in under a week. Maybe even build a knockoff in a few days.

But if you want those sites to be something other than resume fodder, expect to put in some hard time. The days of “build it and they will come” are gone. If they ever existed at all.