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Can smaller social networks cross the chasm?

If you look at the social network landscape you could conclude that you have the big 3 (Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn) and the others. If I look at the data of our social media around the world 2011 survey, I conclude that you have the big 1 (Facebook), a few rising stars (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+) and some local hero’s (Hyves, Vkontakte, Qzone).

Metcalfe’s law makes it hard for everybody, except Facebook

In the adoption theories of new media, there is an important law that many people tend to forget. It’s called Metcalfe’s law. According to Wikipedia, Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2). First formulated in this form by George Gilder in 1993, and attributed to Robert Metcalfe in regard to Ethernet, Metcalfe’s law was originally presented, circa 1980, not in terms of users, but rather of “compatible communicating devices” (for example, fax machines, telephones, etc.)

In other words: big networks get bigger, smaller networks don’t survive. The value of a network is determined by the size of the network. If we apply this philosophy to the social network environment, the battle is over and only 1 network will reach the mass market: Facebook.

Facebook is the only network with an adoption rate higher than 25%. The 25% mark is close to the tipping point, where you reach the early majority and not just the early adopters. In one of my favorite books, Crossing the chasm (Moore, 1991), the theory says that new technologies will only win of they cross the line between early adopters and early majority.

Question is: will one of the rising stars of currently smaller social networks succeed?

Adoptie curve social networks

LinkedIn could be the exception

There is a way to avoid Metcalfe’s law. You can cross the chasm by creating a new standard in the market. If Facebook is the standard private social network, there is room for something else. LinkedIn has the advantage that they have a clear positioning. They are a functional, B2B platform. This completely different positioning than Facebook gives them the opportunity to cross the chasm as well.

Twitter, Google+, Quora are fighting

Question is what with Twitter, Google+ and smaller sites like Quora. The key to their success is based on the feedback from early adopters. Next to that, they need to have a specific benefit for new users. Twitter has the advantage that there is no hierarchy and every conversation is transparent. That’s why journalists tend to like the site. Google+ has the advantage that branded conversations will be found more easily through Google and that conversations are more in-depth. Quora had the advantage of in-depth content, but my feeling tells me the site won’t make it. If the early adopters stop using a certain site, the mass will never use it.

A last difficult barrier the new and smaller networks are facing is the saturated feeling among consumers. Our study showed that 60% of the internet users have no intention to join a new social network. Not everyone is a social network junkie, you know.