Simplifying the Social Media Landscape

social_media_choiceInteresting article from eMarketer today about the increasing trend toward a simplified social networking landscape. According to Universal McCann’s “Power to the People: Social Media Tracker” study:

“Internet users are ‘starting to focus their digital life’ around single networks, rather than around many specialized tools with social features.”

Order from chaos
The competitive social landscape is complex and crowded. Beyond self-contained social networks like Facebook and MySpace, the universe splinters off into many task-specific Web presences that cumulatively comprise the Social Web. Twitter and YouTube and Digg and LinkedIn and SlideShare and Flickr – all are the more well-known kings of their respective hills, sitting atop heaps of dozens or hundreds of other wannabe players.

As a social media user, a typical reaction is to look at all those options and either grimace in pain, stare like a deer in the headlights, or focus on one or two and turn a cheek to all the others. And research now indicates that the latter is increasingly the trend.

Social following in search’s footsteps
I can’t help but think we’re seeing a parallel evolution of social media like we did in search over the past two decades. The 90s saw a crowded competitive search space struggle for its own identity. Major players turned into minor has-beens with whiplash speed. Better mousetraps rolled out annually, only to collapse under their own technical dead weight and/or lack of brand awareness. Remember Veronica, Excite, LookSmart, Lycos, AltaVista, HotBot, AskJeeves, and AllTheWeb? All had their moments in the sun. Some dried up there and some were swallowed mercifully by bigger predators. Some continue to cower under a rock somewhere.

Obviously, Google stands at the top of the food chain. And a simple user experience has always been its hallmark. It provided essential functionality in a non-intimidating way. Users soon knew where to go for what they wanted and failed to see the need to search on multiple engines. (Yes, despite even iWon’s shameless cash-for-search baiting. I used this occasion to discover iWon’s actually still around. Who knew?) Google won and 65% share of search says it will remain the winner for a while.

Facebook’s title fight
Analysts and media observers seem focused on the clash of heavyweights occurring between Facebook and Twitter. (MySpace has already been largely discounted as the Mike Tyson of the bunch; sadly reflecting ringside on its one-time glory.) Facebook’s meteoric rise in frequent users and blossoming revenue model validate its claim to be within reach of the belt.

To me, Facebook and Twitter aren’t even in the same weight class. Facebook has so much more to offer and stands to effectively swallow Twitter (through acquisition or obsolescence) much like it did recently with its acquisition of FriendFeed. Twitter’s legacy will always be the advent of real-time search – something Facebook appears poised to counter with FriendFeed and Facebook Lite.

It’s Facebook’s game to lose. Smart moves, functionality that can be as robust or as simple as you want it, and an increasingly open API are all harbingers of its coronation. Combine that with the human instinct to move to simplified choice and Facebook’s future looks singularly bright.

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