Editor’s Note: This guest post is written by Jay Jamison, a Partner at BlueRun Ventures, who focuses on early stage mobile, consumer and enterprise investments. He also serves on the boards of AppCentral, AppRedeem, Foodspotting, and Thumb. You can follow Jay on Twitter @jay_jamison or read his blog at www.jayjamison.com.
With the pending public offering of Facebook anticipated to be the largest tech IPO in history, it’s an interesting time to think about where we go from here. Some say “social is done,” Facebook is all the social media anyone would ever want or need. Unquestionably, as it nears one billion accounts, in the solar system of social media, Facebook is the Sun — the gravitational center around which everything social revolves.
But while some may pronounce that Facebook is all the social we’d ever need, users clearly haven’t gotten the memo. Instead, users are rapidly adopting new interest-based social networks such as Pinterest, Instagram, Thumb, Foodspotting, and even the very new Fitocracy. (Disclosure: BlueRun Ventures is an investor in Thumb and Foodspotting.)
The numbers tell the tale around users’ appetites for these new interest-based social networks. Pinterest, the increasingly popular virtual pinboard, crossed 10M monthly unique users in the US in January 2012, achieving 8 digits worth of monthly uniques faster than any site ever, comScore says. According to Silicon Valley uber-investor Ron Conway, Pinterest is growing like Facebook 5 years ago.
On Thumb, a community for instant opinions, user engagement has mushroomed in its short history. Users asking questions can expect to receive over 60 answers from other users within 5 minutes. As a result of this near instantaneous community engagement, Thumb’s average usage is currently second only to Facebook’s, and is far ahead of mainstream services including Pinterest and Tumblr, though on a smaller base.
What accounts for the fast growth of these interest-based social networks, and what does it mean for Facebook’s future?
Interest-based social networks have a markedly different focus and approach than Facebook. The Pinterest, Thumb and Foodspottings of the world enable users to focus and organize around their interests first, whereas Facebook focuses on a user’s personal relationships. Facebook offers us a social utility to deepen social connectivity with our existing social graphs, while these new interest-based social networks enable users to express their interests in new, engaging ways and offer authentic, high value connectivity with new people we don’t already know. The different approaches of these interest-based services are distinct from Facebook, and they are powering the massive growth and engagement we are seeing in these new services.
On Pinterest, I can curate and express my interests in Crossfit, cars and architecture, giving me the ability to create a strongly personal identity that draws me into new social relationships with people on the basis of my interests. Similarly on Foodspotting, I can easily express my love for ramen, which in turn connects me with other ramen fans who aren’t in my current social graph.
So if interest-based social networks focus first on an individual’s interest graph and Facebook centers on an individual’s social graph, which service will be the winner?
Humans are inherently social creatures, and we define ourselves both by the people we know and our interests. We make decisions about where to eat, what to buy, where to visit, etc. based on a complex matrix of social relationships, past experiences, location, long standing interests and future goals. Today’s platforms approach our lives from different angles but both are integral to how we define ourselves and interact with the world around us.
There are opportunities to establish differentiated, sustainable social media brands with large, passionate audiences. Much like the modern day media disrupters (e.g. ESPN or HBO or CNN), these services can establish new social media networks that are differentiated and unique, protecting them from the inevitable concern that they get squashed by Facebook. The traditional “Big 3 networks” (NBC, ABC, and CBS) used to be the only properties that really mattered, similar to how some view Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in today’s social media landscape. Emerging networks will be the new media brands and properties that augment social networking and media.
At the same time, the rise of these new interest based social networks does not really threaten Facebook, in fact, they are more likely to benefit Facebook. Specifically, Facebook has evolved itself brilliantly into not only an end user application drawing near to 1 billion accounts but also a robust, powerful platform other apps can leverage in order to drive more users to their services. Pinterest, Instagram, Fab, and many others have adopted Facebook’s Timeline API for precisely the reason of wanting to raise awareness of their services and drive more users to their sites. As these new services grow, more content gets pumped back to Facebook, Facebook’s platform gets more robust. Wash, rinse, repeat… Facebook’s positive feedback loop gains more momentum, and becomes more powerful.
In the words of Marc Andreessen, “Software is eating the world”, and in the world of social media, there is, for now, plenty of world to go around.
Excerpt image credit MignonGameKit.org