The panel projected a vision of the future where the trend of racking up 500 Facebook friends has well and truly died a death. Instead, it will be about smaller social interactions — product pages recognising your needs by pulling in information on your friends’ likes and select smaller groups that you handpick.
“The web is being rebuilt around people,” said Iain Macdonald, cofounder and CEO of SkillPages, which lets users be found geographically by those searching for a particular skilled worker, be it a graphic designer or programmer.
“If you log on to book something on Ticketmaster and you get suggestions from friends based on their likes — that’s not social networking, but it’s an application of the graph for a new purpose, and maybe you can meet people through these new networks.”
Xochi Birch, cofounder of Monkey Inferno and Bebo (which sold to AOL), says value is moving towards smaller, more meaningful interactions.
“In the past it’s always been about amassing as many as possible — now it’s about interactions between the users rather than so many people in one space. There will be more about verticals.”
Alexandra Chong, founder and CEO of women’s private social network Luluvise said, “There’s a clear direction to make more fragmented niche networks focused on relevance, and it’s all about the mobile device and how we can allow users to interact with it.”
These niche networks will leak into the entire web, supporting product websites in new and novel ways that enrich experiences.
Henrik Berggren, founder and CEO of Readmill, a social network for book fans, said: “I think social networks are going to be less social networks and more an integral part of a product, whatever that product is. People are rebuilding it round everything — I think that needs to be considered by a lot of different companies.”
Mobile devices represent the ideal platform for this kind of format — they draw in a vast amount of data, such as location, that would be rendered irrelevant at desktop level. “You expect it to be smarter than a window on your desktop,” says Berggren. “It will affect social networks in lots of ways and make it easier, faster and smarter.” Chong’s company is even completely losing its web presence in three months’ time, and will be solely mobile.
The natural progression then, is a focus on mobile payments and, according to the panel, micro payments will therefore be very important.
The eternal battle between keeping the user happy and draining their data to make their experience better, will of course continue to be a problem — “in order for apps to know and serve you in good way they need to know something about you,” said Chong. However the model that Facebook is moving towards, giving user’s more control, should be heeded and taken as a future model for diffusing the situation.
“I think we’re on a journey, some people absolutely share everything, then there’s outrage when Facebook changes privacy terms for other people,” says Macdonald. “The key is user control, as long as the user feels like they control content they create there’s safety. If a social network compromises that control, they will fail. It’s a self-policing landscape — if you don’t respect their privacy, they won’t respect you and will leave. At the end of the day the social network has the power because it has the content — it has the power to disrespect privacy so it’s down to it to understand the intention of the user.”
Companies should be keeping this in mind while they are constructing products, said Berggren, and they should also be taking into account how a person’s perception and expectations of privacy changes over time.
“Teenagers might want to share everything, but as they grow older they will want a private network,” said Birch, who is a case in point — she joined social network Path specifically because she has “too many Facebook friends”; Path connects her only with family and caps friends at 150 (so, not that intimate really).
At the end of the day, the user-centric web should be more profitable. Put simply, says Macdonald, “focus on developing something that helps improve people’s lives and that’s how you’ll succeed.”