As we head into the Christmas holiday, it's time for wish lists. Here's a theme-based one for people in social media: If Santa were to give you the gift of a perfect social network, what features would it contain? (And, yes, Virginia, this exercise assumes that Facebook -- for all of its world dominance -- still isn't perfect.)
Partly, I'm doing this for the fun of it, but I'm also doing it because, for anyone in the business, it should be more than just an exercise. As 2010 closes, it's obvious that it has been the year in which the two biggest stories in social media were Facebook and Twitter. (Sorry, Foursquare.) In fact, with Facebook at almost 600 million users, and Twitter at a $3.7 billion valuation, they are often perceived as The Chosen Ones -- which means it's exactly the time to start thinking of what happens next. No one needs to be reminded that Myspace once ruled the world.
The hunt for the next evolution of social networking is also a session topic at our next Social Media Insider Summit, being held earlier next year. We're looking for two people who could present their vision on where we go from here, so get in touch!
So, if I were to build a social network, what would be at the top of my wish list? Here are three:
1. A more informative home page. Believe it or not, the data dump any of us gets when we log in to Facebook or Twitter doesn't quite do the trick. What would be perfect is a combination of Twitter's trending topics, Google News and the current news feed from friends -- with a twist: it would also tell users things like what the trending topics were among friends. Why would I like this? Because it would provide a clearer picture of what's really going on. One of my favorite Twitter clients is Twitter Times -- a not-as-pretty-as-Flipboard list of the links being shared by the people I follow on Twitter. It's an invaluable morning resource in determining what I need to know.
The new Myspace brushes up against this idea, but what would be utterly great to see, not to mention really monetizable, are stats like what the most shared video of the day is on Facebook, the most shared link, and so forth. (Right now, via Facebook Connect, we see what might be the flip side of this, which shouldn't be discounted. I'm just a little better off knowing that 118 people have shared the link of The New York Post story: "Tormented Rex bares 'sole' over kinky feet vids".)
2. Refining the ability to create circles of friends. I know Facebook has given us new, improved Groups, but there's still a one-size-fits all aspect to most social networks. including Group-ified Facebook, that's wanting. The problem with Groups is that they become ghettos, or heavily-siloed, or whatever other pejorative you want to apply to places that are hard to get to or you don't particularly want to go to. Plus, there's a difference between the "Incumbents of NY State Assembly and Senate Must Go" group, and a group composed of your family. One would hope that the latter should rank higher on your relationship food chain -- but they are treated equally in the Facebook realm. A feature that allowed for variations on relationships would let you toggle quickly between your different circles of friends, so checking up on say, Mom's latest status update, or what was going on in your neighborhood, wouldn't require sifting through dozens of status updates, or creating a Group.
3. Better search. I don't really need to explain this one, do I? Oh well, here goes. As I was writing this, someone was asking me about the capabilities of Facebook social plugins. I wasn't sure of the answer, so, to prove a point, I did what I usually refrain from: I searched for the answer on Facebook. Under "social plugins" I got one result -- and as you'll see if you're logged in, it wasn't a very good one. Then I tried "Facebook plugins" -- more results, but not exactly helpful ones, unless you count "Facebook Plugins Test," which was the first result. It has a total of two "Likes" and clicks over to a "404 Not Found" error. Point proven! Yes, boys and girls, as we've all experienced so many times, Google proved much better at searching Facebook than Facebook did.
Not to knock unduly on Facebook for lousy search, but think of all the content that gets lost in the shuffle because, despite Google and Bing, it's just too hard to find. This is not to suggest that all tweets and status updates are created equal, but social content shouldn't be quite so ephemeral.
I suggest these three wishes at the risk some of them already exist, but I just haven't found them yet because they are buried too deep in the sometimes overwhelming roster of features available in the social networking universe.
I could also criticize my list for not dreaming big enough, which is probably why I write about social media rather than creating it. With that, I wish you a happy holiday, and encourage you to post your social networking wishes below. See you in 2011!