There has been a fundamental shift away from e-mail in favor of social networks where people can more readily communicate with groups of their peers.
While this trend advances collaboration, it creates some troubling issues for organizations that manage their own websites. Social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook on the one hand drive traffic to a site, while also cannibalizing the audience of a website. The owner of the website generates and pays to create the content, while the conversation about that content takes place on other sites. The website owner doesn't know who these people are, though the major social networks do. Yet the website owner doesn't benefit from the conversation by adding registered users.
To address this issue, many websites have begun to roll their own social networks. Some are buying packaged social-network applications, while others will use Web tools to build their own. For example, Acquia, a provider of a content management system based on open source Drupal code, just rolled out Drupal Commons, an extension to Drupal that makes it simpler for websites based on Drupal to add a social-network platform.
According to Acquia co-founder Jay Batson, Drupal Commons allows each website to create a custom look and feel for each social network. In addition, Batson said Acquia will provide analytics tools to more easily identify demographic trends among users of sites' social networks.
It's unlikely that any website will become the next Facebook. But the future of social networking on the Web will be defined more by thousands of special-interest social networks and the big three to five - depending on what Google and Microsoft ultimately do - social networking platforms.
In the meantime, it's imperative that websites hold on to the conversations about their content as much as possible. Otherwise, they are just paying to create content mostly to the benefit a few very big social networks.