A “Social OS?” Don’t Bet Against It

May 28, 2007

logo_facebook-cmyk-7inch.jpgInternet and VC circles have begun to buzz recently about the possibility of social-networking sites evolving into “social operating systems” or “personal operating systems” — as central to people’s social and personal lives as Windows is to a computer.

A particularly influential voice promoting this notion could be heard this past week, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg evoked it at a major Facebook event in San Francisco.

Far-fetched? Not really. In fact, MySpace and Facebook already are approaching that level of functionality for many of their members, especially those who are 25 and under. Just ask a few teenagers and young adults how they manage their social lives, and the pervasive role of MySpace and Facebook (usually one or the other) becomes immediately clear.

Some key elements, to be sure, remain to be adequately integrated. Mobility is key, given younger consumers’ heavy phone, text-messaging and mobile-entertainment usage, and experimentation with GPS-enabled social apps. Clearly, any fully functional personal OS must work as well (and somewhat differently) on the go as it does on a desktop or laptop.

Meanwhile, coming at the personal-OS opportunity from a somewhat different angle than MySpace and Facebook are virtual worlds such as Second Life.

So — a social OS? The term itself is a bit too geeky to be adopted by the masses — but the concept behind it is logical enough and would seem likely to spawn a whole new generation of interesting startups.


As Social Networking Matures, Marketers Lag

April 23, 2007

One could make a strong case that social networking is maturing — with a leading indicator being that if startups don’t aggregate significant member numbers quickly, they’ll promptly lose their funding and disappear.

I would say that “maturity” began to apply to social networking about six months ago, when all manner of “niche” social networks began to appear (appealing to everything from moms to fashionistas to football fans to dog owners).

Yet even as the high-growth arc described by MySpace and Facebook begins to rationalize, marketers and advertisers still have a lot of catching up to do.

Clearly, online social networks score extremely well on the audience-engagement scale — arguably, they’re the stickiest Internet vehicle yet to appear.

But there’s much that remains to be understood by marketers. The formats, metrics, audience tracking, demographic sorts, and even advertising effectiveness of social networking don’t necessarily conform to established norms. All must be worked out anew.

Indeed, it’ll be awhile yet before marketing figures out the social-networking arena.