Social Networks: The Few vs. the Many

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In the future, will everyone have their own social network? While this sounds far-fetched, the trend arrow currently appears to be pointing toward a profileration of social networks rather than a few dominant sites like MySpace and Facebook.

There are tools that make this eminently possible -- from Ning, a platform that has been used to create 100,000 social networks, founder Marc Andreessen informs us on his blog, to Metaplace, which IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson points out lets folks create virtual networks, no programming required.

Social networking is becoming such a major force that the term Social Web (vs. the more amorphous Web 2.0) is gaining cachet, according to a recent BusinessWeek article.

Companies including Yahoo and Playboy are building full-fledged networking experiences to rival the major players, notes the article, while a number of others, from Viacom to eBay, are packing their sites with social features.

(If you like rumors -- and who doesn't -- Google is reportedly creating a monster mash-up called My World that will be a cross between MySpace and Second Life -- though the details are vague (natch) and unreliable to boot, opines Datamation columnist Mike Elgan. Meanwhile, Microsoft is said to be angling for a stake in Facebook.)

Of course, we could rapidly be approaching the point of exhaustion. BusinessWeek cites a blog by John Battelle in which the Web marketing guru says he has search network fatigue. (Oh sure, SNF. As if parents don't already have enough to worry about with ADD, ADHD and OCD.) A Slate article even offers advice on how to scale back Facebook activity.

Companies have a love/hate relationship with social networking. While they see the value of facilitating knowledge sharing and other kinds of collaboration, they worry about compromising sensitive data and exposing employees to time-killing "network noise" by venturing outside corporate firewalls.

So, as this Sci-Tech Today article relates, companies are building their own social networks. At Starcom Mediavest, for example, some 2,000 employees have signed up to receive Web pages where they can post profiles, search for coworkers with similar interests and even have a little fun. Recruitment is the primary aim of networks for current and former employees of Dow Chemical Co. and KPMG.

Making the creation of such networks relatively painless (or so the vendors promise) are tools like SharePoint Server, Microsoft's Web 2.0 play, and IBM's recently revitalized Lotus platform.