Social networking has come a long way since it began in 2006. Social networking has also come a long way in 2011. Almost everyone who has internet access is present on at least one social network. RuneWire is a social network, Xbox live is a social network, there are numerous social networking services around, almost too many. We’ll be focusing entirely on the big three: Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. With these three networks we’ll compare what people are using them for now and where they may go in 2012.
Before we get into the comparison it makes sense to look at the proliferation of social networks as mentioned. Google+ has not broken through into mainstream markets. Twitter has resonated highlight with celebrities in 2011, also becoming a platform for brands. Facebook is highly popular with the mainstream population, brands also use Facebook as well. It’s become common place this year to see a TV commercial with a Twitter or Facebook handle on the bottom of the screen. Fox also promotes Twitter for its primetime shows with a hashtag (#terranova or #xfactor). The proliferation of social networks is a key indicator on where each social network currently stands, though we can’t use it as an indicator of where these respective networks will go in the next 12 months.
I’m going to start with Google+ since it’s the newest network and has the most to gain (or lose) over the next year. What do we use Google+ for? Not a whole lot. Google+ is mostly a refuge for people who do not like Facebook, a social network with the features of Facebook that is not Facebook. This is understandable since Facebook desperately needs a competitor. Aside from these Facebook refugees the main crop of people using Google+ are those who like Google and want to use their Google account as their hub, more on this later. Google+ has found success in allowing users to create, share, and then discuss content, discussions on Google+ are superb.
Twitter has been the network to show the most growth in 2011. Twitter has become the platform to use to follow a celebrity or brand. As evident by the massive amount of celebrities who joined in 2011 we can see that Twitter saw an influx of celebrity users. Brand messaging also has come to Twitter with promoted Tweets, companies tweeting new releases, and special offers. Twitter’s also a good news source, combined with applications like Flipboard Twitter becomes an excellent newspaper of news that you truly want to see. Of course people also use Twitter to answer the famous “What are you doing?” question.
Ahh Facebook, what have you done this year? Facebook reportedly continued their trend of turning the user interface on their head and annoying certain sets of users. Did this cause any real change in people leaving Facebook? No. As with the other networks Facebook is mainly used for sharing content and media with friends, brands also take part in this. The main use of Facebook that has appeared this year is Facebook as a communication platform, general discussion or planning certain events. I’ve heard stories of people wanting to continue a group project discussion on Facebook. This was furthered by Facebook’s messaging application and @facebook.com email addresses which encourage the use of Facebook as a communication platform.
This has been a glimpse of what each of the big three social networks has become in 2011. Each of these three networks would continue to survive and thrive if they kept the current attitude regarding their own feature sets. Standing still is not within the spirit of the internet as we know it, websites evolve and as a result the internet evolves. I could stop here but now I’m going to share some predictions about what each of these networks will become in 2012.
Google+ will continue to grow and mature into something more. It’s the equivalent to what Twitter was in 2006:
Twitter will continue to evolve as well but Twitter is much more mature when compared with Google+. Chances are that Twitter’s evolution won’t be as ground breaking as the evolution of Google+.
Facebook probably has the biggest change coming in 2012 and you can already see it. There’s no point to list changes since I feel this change will overshadow everything Facebook could do, including pesky interface changes people do not like.
Facebook will become the online scrapbook of your life.
The first phase of this change is already here, for most users and that is Timeline. All data going into Timeline already existed, it’s just being represented in a different way. Timeline arranges the data in that Facebook has started to become an online scrapbook. Facebook will continue to iterate in this direction making the whole scrapbook theme even more apparent. The question is, will people accept this new idea of what Facebook is?
Before I offer some parting thoughts about what these changes mean for the social networking space of 2012 I’d like to talk briefly about presence. All three of the aforementioned platforms deal with online presence, albeit in a different way. Google+ handles presence from your Google activity and online sharing, Twitter handles presence with brands and celebrities via short messages, and Facebook handles presence by sharing your life. Online presence is not going away, people must exercise more thought in what they post. Just because something is marked as private or shared with a specific set of friends does not mean it will stay that way. If something is posted online treat it as public. If there’s anyone that you do not want seeing a certain post, DO NOT POST IT!
As each social network evolves, their own internet identity becomes more clear. An evolving online identity for an individual is ultimately a good thing. More and more websites are letting users sign up with their Twitter, Facebook, or Google accounts which assigns a single identity to this person. This means that a person can choose the network that best suits them and use that profile anywhere they go online. It is my hope that this will happen since the internet does need a common identity service and with the stabilization of the social network space this may be possible.
With that being said, that’s it for 2011. 2012 should be an interesting year for all things related to technology. As always if you have any suggestions for future articles please send them to me.