1. The online population explosion will continue. But not forever: A 2007 report from Datamonitor predicts social net expansion will
peak worldwide in 2009 and plateau in 2012. For now, growth is spurring ever-
2. Mobile and niche social networks will take off. When you hear "social network burnout," think form, not function. People will always like keeping in touch, even if MySpace gets too bulky. Mobile communities from companies like AirG and Radar and niche networks like gaming site king.com could make that easier. JupiterResearch estimates $576 million in mobile UGC revenues in 2007 - ballooning to to $5.47 billion in 2011.
3. Real-time keeps getting realer. Twitter has more than held its own, despite critics
who call it pointless and irrelevant.
4. A profile backlash makes things simpler. How many in-depth profiles does one person really need? Speed-dating site WooMe has users answer four or five short questions, upload a picture, and go. Other users enrich your profile by tagging you with one-word descriptors, building a cloud that follows you on the site. Obvious pitfalls, but hassle-free.
5. Voice and video will keep people connected. As use of broadband and pc cameras grows, this will rapidly get even easier. WooMe already uses Skype for video meet-ups and chats, sometimes leaving space for video ads, and MySpace and Skype have announced a deal for IM with voice.
6. Branded social networks will be integrated, not tacked on. The day espn.com launched its "conversation" pages, the response was 10 times what was projected. User interactions now drive news coverage. "We've added a social element to ESPN, versus introducing a community area we sort of shuffle you off to," says Ed Davis, vice president for product development and community at ESPN Digital Media. The site had 4 million visits by 2.5 million users in October 2007.
7. Yahoo will use social networking to take down Google. John Kremer, vice president of Yahoo Mail, told the Business Standard in November that the company will unveil a new social networking service. "Our ability to launch a social networking tool that can integrate all the existing services right at the Mail home page should be the clincher for us in 2008." That's right, it's on.
8. Virtual communities will remain problematic for advertisers. Brands made a huge, exciting dash into Second Life, but so far, it's been lonely for them there. "There is potential for user engagement, but simply opening up a shop in Second Life or other virtual worlds and hoping for the best is far from enough," says Datamonitor's Ri Pierce-Grove.
9. What old media does well - create content - may finally give them an edge in new media. Mansueto Ventures' Inc. magazine recently launched IncBizNet, a social network that includes professionally moderated groups. Can Facebook say that? "They don't have four decades of experience running publications about these subject areas," says Ed Sussman, president of Mansueto Digital. "Our technology is way behind - and when I say way behind, I mean two years - so I think we'll catch up and see what happens when we add editorial to the mix."
10. Users will make the Web their social network. Maybe 2008 is too soon for this, but there are already tools out there helping this along. coComment, for example, gives users one place to track and share every comment they or anyone else makes anywhere online. "It gives me an overview of what people are saying on the entire Web," says Kristina Serafim, vice president of marketing for coComment. The entire Web? Now that's a network.