The Very Near Future of the Web Part 1 – Niche Networks

originally posted on Concept Hub

Halloween has past which means we are officially in the midst of the holiday season. With the holiday season comes visions of the New Year. With visions of the New Year come predictions of what we will all need to pay attention to in the upcoming year.

Over the remaining 8 weeks – yep that’s it, 8 weeks of 2009, I will be posting future trend predictions that are up for discussion on our Facebook Business Page.

Each week I will dedicate a blog post to one of the trends that I believe we REALLY need to pay attention to. This week the focus is on Niche Networks.

Admittedly, I might be biased. Three of my clients are building their own Niche Networks; ATL Insider, Lens on Atlanta, and eRollover. However, there are several reasons why I sincerely believe that the future of the Internet is a web of interrelated Niche Networks.

Some recent statistics I have read suggest that 3 out of 4 Americans use social technology and 93% of social media users believe that a company should have a presence on social media. What that tells me is that the web is social!

As many of you know, this did not happen overnight. It started with grassroots blogs and the uprising of the MySpace generation. We then saw Facebook explode and grow to boast of a population that is larger than almost any country in the world and Twitter becoming the place where we get the latest breaking news.

Each of these sites has gone mainstream and become household names. These sites have rapidly changed the expectations of and behaviors on the web.

At the same time, as each of these mainstream sites has grown in popularity, they have been bullied to try to become everything to everyone.

Last week I wrote a post about my impression that Facebook is going through puberty. I pointed out that:

There are people who are on Facebook for business reasons, but their business connections are using Facebook to play with friends and family, and some of their friends and family are trying to use Facebook to promote their grassroots causes or political agendas.

Many social media advisors, myself included, have often consulted that our clients need to be where their audience is. I have adjusted that advice recently. I suggest that my clients need to be where their clients expect and want them to be. Although your clients may be hanging out on Facebook, they may be there for reasons other than to hang out with you.

This begins to open up the MANY reasons for brands and industries to develop their own niche social networking sites.

Other reasons include:

  • Brands are dependent on the existence and enhancements of mainstream networks. Consider the trouble that those who developed Facebook Groups went through when Facebook Pages became the better option.
  • Currently, changes and enhancements to mainstream sites come too frequently for most people and often disrupt the brand’s effort to build a community.
  • It is not comfortable to have a confidential conversation on sites such Facebook or LinkedIn, even if you do set up the appropriate privacy settings.

Already many organizations have jumped off the mainstream networks bandwagon to develop their own network. Last week Tech Crunch reported:

Ning (a DIY Network) has reached an impressive milestone of 37 million users and 1.6 million social networks using its platform. Growth continues at the rate of one million users every two weeks. 20% of these networks are running at least one Ning app, while the average is two. That’s an audience of over 9 million users.

One of the most valuable features of Ning is the ability to pull in content from mainstream networks. Beyond that, the developer can choose which feature they want to include based on what makes sense for the community they are building.

In 2010 we will see more platforms developed with the ability to integrate and interconnect with other networks, whether they are niche networks or mainstreams. People will no longer concern themselves with how many networks they belong to because users will log in with one sign in and only have to maintain one profile.

I do not predict the demise of mainstream social networks, instead I predict that mainstream networks will continue to act as a global marketplace, meanwhile, brands and industries will set up niche networks that will act as their local storefronts.