Failed Social Networks: Missing the Flavor of Necessity

When you think of social networking sites, what comes to mind?

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr, right?

These sites are very successful tools for sharing and socializing online. You might be thinking to yourself, I know some other social networking sites like…

Ping, Google+, and Myspace.

Those three sites are indeed social networks that are just as unique networking tools as the five I mentioned prior. You might be thinking to yourself: but I do not use these sites or have any intention of using them which is what a lot of people would say.

Finally, what if I told you about…

Buzz, ConnectU, The Hub, Orkut, Friendster, or iYomu?

Do you know about these social networking sites? Well, that is okay because these sites are all inactive at this point because they failed as social networks where sites like Facebook and Twitter succeeded.

What made Facebook and Twitter so much better than these other sites?


Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all bring people together for similar interaction which is commonly categorized as social networking. Ideas, images, locations, and emotions are all shared over these three networks. It would make sense that since these three sites perform the same basic actions, everyone would only need to pick one to fulfill their need for social networking. We all know that is certainly not the case. I use all three social networking tools (to be fair I use one because I am required to do so).

The reason that these three sites are popular is because each site has a flavor that has a unique verve when compared to the other two. With this flavor, it captures a specific audience. This audience is attracted to become a part of this new community contained within this social network.

For example, let us consider Tumblr. It is truly a hybrid between deviantART and the generic blog. The user keeps all of the features they would expect from a blog, but gets the artistic flavor that comes with deviantART when he or she visits the site. You simply cannot find this same combination online and, as a result, online artists have flocked to the site. If you go to today, you will see thousands of Tumblrs with hundreds of unique pieces of art embedded in their posts filled with collaboration and critique that no other tool provides quite so well.

Consider Twitter. Is it not the perfect hybridization of SMS and podium speaking? It combines all of the positive qualities of text messaging with the audience of public speaking. The user does not have to write long speeches and arrange a time and place and hope that everyone to which they wish to speak is available. They just write a short text message and tweet it. This is perfectly acceptable because Twitter forces the messages of its users to be 140 characters or fewer.  In this way, the user gets their message across to their “followers” in a manner as easy as text messaging.

A screenshot of Twitter’s Arab Spring Feed

In addition, information and ideas can travel faster on Twitter than they can on any other social network because of how Twitter is designed. If you really like what one of the people you are following has said, you can simply retweet his or her tweet, making it visible to all of your followers. This process can continue with your followers, the followers of your followers, and so on until millions have seen a single message in just a few minutes. How is that possible? Tweets were designed to be completely transferable by a single click of the retweet button. This single factor is what has made Twitter the perfect tool for creating social movements like the Arab Spring. This flavor has made Twitter very successful.

You might be saying, “That is all well and good, but why did some social networking sites fail?” Well that is rather simple to answer. These sites lacked the unique flavor of necessity. Every single one of them lacked an aspect that made it not only different from other social networks but filled a need that people have and that is not fulfilled by other social networks.

Google+. Although the site seemed like it was to become a success after it quickly received ten million users, the site is nowhere on its way to becoming the next great social network. The site now has less than 40% of the users than it did after the first week of launch. This failure was truly apparent when a survey of Google’s employees found that only a few of them used Google+. On the other hand, they found that almost all of Google’s employees used Facebook. (When your employees like the competition better, you know you are in trouble.)

A screen capture from my Google+ page which looks eerily similar to Facebook, but is a complete ghost town.

Why is it a failure? Because Google+ is not special. It does the job that Facebook already does. When all of your friends and one billion other people are already using Facebook, why would you switch to Google+ to get the same experience minus the established community? In order for this to happen, the opportunity cost of switching to Google+ would have to be lower than the benefit which it was clearly not the case for the common person. Google+ was destined for failure before it was even conceived. (The last time a friend of mine made a post on Google+ was August 6th!)

We are waiting for the next big leap forward in social media. I am sure that in the next few years to come, many new social networks will be founded and almost just as many will fall out of existence.


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