Top Contenders (Pretenders?) to be the Next Facebook

Posted by Tim Mikulski, May 30, 2012 0 comments

Tim Mikulski

CNN's What's Next blog recently published a list of current social media outlets/apps that could take over as the "next Facebook" if everything falls into place.

While there has been wild speculation in the past that other products would have replaced the big blue 'F' by now, it hasn't happened; however, I'm pretty sure that I never thought MySpace would be replaced either (p.s. have you checked out what Friendster has become?).

So, here's a quick rundown that CNN provided with links and my added commentary in bold after each description:

Highlight (number of users unpublished): This "social discovery" app was the buzz at this year's South by Southwest Interactive, a conference in Austin, TX, that makes or breaks many tech start-ups. Essentially, the app aims to give people real-time information about the people all around them. “San Francisco is a city of 800,000 strangers," Highlight founder Paul Davison told Time. "You sit on the bus next to each other. You stand in line next to each other. You go to bars and meetups to meet each other. You walk by each other on the street. And you don’t know anything about anyone you see.” This app seems move intrusive than Foursquare, so I'm not sure people will give it a shot.

Path (3 million users) Founded by ex-Facebooker Dave Morin, Path has a couple things going for it that Facebook doesn't: It's mobile-first, which is important in a world where people tend to network on their phones more and more than on their desktop computers; and it's intimate. Path caps users' friend lists at 50 people, ensuring that you're actually communicating as the real you with people who you really know in real life. An app redesign won Path a new wave of support from the early-adopting tech public, but a privacy snafu in February, during which it was revealed that Path stored users' phone contact lists, may have eroded the trust of some people. Morin apologized for that data slip, saying it was accidental and had been remedied. Privacy concerns aside, it seems like it's what everyone intended Facebook to be—a more limited circle—and that could prove to be a draw for people like me who had to friend his entire high school class for reunion planning purposes. Also, there is an Instagram-like photo feature with Path that adds some value. This might be my pick as the next potential Facebook.

Pinterest (11.5 million monthly active users connected through Facebook, according to AppData) A recent report from the marketing firm Experian declared Pinterest "the hottest social media start-up since Facebook and YouTube." The site lets users "pin" photos of their favorite internet findings onto personal boards, which can be shared with friends or kept private. It surged in popularity in late 2011 and early this year and, according to Experian's report, is the third most-visited social networking site in the United States, excluding mobile usage. The site is especially popular with people who are design- and art-minded, or who are trying to plan events or decorate a new house. But there have been questions of late about whether the site's popularity is waning. Pinterest was well on it's way to securing a decent share of the market, particularly with women, and may be most appropriate for our arts peeps.

Viddy (36 million monthly active users connected to Facebook, according to AppData) Billed by Paris Hilton as "like Instagram, but it's video," Viddy lets users record and upload 15-second video clips, then stylize them with retro-hipster-looking filters. Viddy isn't the first to try the short-video-app thing. But the start-up seems poised to capitalize on Instagram's success as an app that can make anyone's photos interesting and fun to look at. Maybe Viddy can do the same for short video messages. I missed the boat and had never heard of this one before reading the article and I think it's intriguing as a YouTube/Instagram hybrid, but might not be different enough from YouTube to succeed.

Tumblr (56 million blogs) Tumblr is more of a blog network than a social network, but it is an increasingly popular platform for creative types to share videos and short stories about their lives. Founder David Karp describes it this way: "Tumblr is the best place in the world for some of the most creative people in the world, so we're trying to build basically the best tools for self-expression." In addition to hilarious pages like "Ryan Gosling, Arts Administrator", Tumblr just looks artsy from the time you land on its homepage. So far, it's mostly a combination of blog platforms and Pinterest, but it could evolve further with more nurturing. Here are some of best uses of Tumblr as of last summer.

Google+ (90 million accounts) In terms of format, Google's social network is the closest thing to Facebook. But it's not nearly as successful. The network, launched last summer and immediately seen as a latecomer follow-up to Facebook, is the constant butt of jokes in the tech world. Want to put a photo where no one will see it? Post it to Google+. The funny thing is that the network continues to maintain some steam and relevance long after the haters thought it would die. In part, that's because of the big-fisted control Google maintains over internet searches. Since items that are posted on Google+ are given some degree of priority (there's a big fight about how much) over other content, some people use Google+ just so that their digital lives are more searchable to the public (this could be key for marketing). It had been so long since I've been on Google+ that when I just signed on to get the URL, it gave me a tour of its new interface. More modern and hopefully more user-friendly, this site could continue to chug along as a Facebook runner-up, but I don't see it taking its place unless this IPO or the new Facebook phone takes down Zuckerberg and company.

Twitter (140 million active users) I mean, you know what Twitter is by now, right? It's been six years. The micro-blogging site has turned into more of a news feed than a social network these days, although it's still used as a one-line public chat program by lots of people. I've actually found that our ARTSblog posts are gaining much more traction on Facebook now when it used to be the opposite. I think people have adopted the article-sharing mentality of Twitter on Facebook, which may change the way people use Twitter. No longer the place to post what you're doing that moment, Twitter is becoming more and more a personal/professional networking and info-gathering device—almost a Facebook/LinkedIn combo.

LinkedIn (161 million accounts) LinkedIn is often overlooked in the debate about online "social networking" sites. Mostly because it's no fun to socialize when you're wearing a tie and shoving your resume in the face of everyone you meet. But the 10-year-old site (that's two years older than Facebook) has proved itself as the premier location for a special kind of networking - the business-y kind. And there are some signs it's loosening up. I still use LinkedIn as a professional networking tool only and highly-curate those that I accept as contacts (I have to have worked with you personally, had a solid real life or online conversation with you, or at the very least see that you're connected to other people I truly trust). It's also fun that it's one of the few social networking sites that allows you to see who has been checking out your profile.

Are any of these going to be the next Facebook? Are there others that CNN and I don't know about? Share in the comments below...

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