Srinivas Reddy’s Weblog

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Emerging Social Networks

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A topic I have been trying understand off late is the emerging phenomenon of ‘Digital Social Networks’. I would like to share my current understanding on the topic and would be glad to hear your views on it.

For techies ‘networks’ are a core component of our ‘virtual world’.  But what are ‘Social networks’ and why are they getting lot of media attention of late? For a Wikipedia definition on social networks check link   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_network   Humans being basically ‘social animals’, the need to meet/network (for what ever reasons) with other humans has a long historic track record. What the new mother of all networks (read internet) has done is enabled this basic human need to be fulfilled in a global scale without place or time restrictions. What we are seeing today is one hand the ‘physical world networks’  (be it friends/ college mates / family /…) are being connected using the ‘digital world networks’ (be it Friendster / Alumini sites / movie lovers / expatriates …) on the other hand technology today enables new kinds of  relationships  / social networks possible (be it myspace / linkedin / ryze / techtribe /….).

Who is joining such networks and why?  Like in good old days different people still have different social needs (be it entertainment / information / knowledge /….) and the ‘digital social networks’ are providing increasingly diverse/domain specific ‘social networking sites’.  Providers of such networks today have a ‘long tail’ of consumers that can be served. Interestingly if one sees the evolution of ‘open source software development’ it has been in a way a ‘pioneer’ in development of ‘digital social networks’.  If one sees most social network sites today, survive due to the ‘free’ content contribution of the users. It would not be far fetched to say that they subsidize the ‘site providers’. To consider the big picture, it is part of the ‘collective intelligence’ made possible by smart algorithms working on ‘digital end-user generated content’.  For a interesting video on how the machine is using us check link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE  So assuming you can find the right networks their is some high value content that can make you ‘smarter’. Most companies (technology companies in particular) are increasingly trying to adopt to the ‘social networking trends’ (be it in form of blogs/ wiki’s / groups /..) – you only need to check the different ‘developer networks’ of tech giants (be it Microsoft, SAP, Google, IBM, Yahoo, Amazon,…). 

So why are companies suddenly so open with their ‘knowledge assets’?  ‘Co-innovation’ / ‘User-centered’ innovation is something we here in this context. For one technology today permits a new level of ’personal relationship management’ with end-users to enable more ‘user-centered product co-innovation’.  While companies can produce on one hand what the ‘end users’ really want on the other hand ‘self-service’ like features channeled through ‘social networking sites’ with end-users helping themselves reduces the support/end-user training costs. So we are increasingly seeing value creation through ‘social networks’ as a ‘competitive differentiator’ for companies (free marketing if you like).  The biggest threat of  ‘open source software development’ to the likes of Microsoft are the ‘low operating cost’ and we see ‘digital social networks’ doing just that to the different ‘firms’ in different domains (travel / music / movies / publishing /…).  Considering that in emerging economies  where the biggest resources we have are ‘human resources’, the tremendous value that can be created by such ‘digital social networks’ cannot be underestimated.  I personally like what ‘techtribe’ is trying to do but the concept needs to be applied to other domains as well (healthcare / tourism / education / sports /…).

While the reasons for the popularity of such ‘social networks’ in the west can be traced to outsourcing (and the associated job insecurity, they act as good medium for self promotion) social structure (unstable family relationships/….), increasing broadband internet access (and the related consumer empowerment), global competition (its increasingly important for the companies to better serve key accounts) leading to ‘relationship management’ and product/service innovation prerequisites.  While some issues hold true for the ‘Emerging economies’ as well but the saying ‘Think Global, Act local’ would apply very much.  When one sees the Indian landscape with the ‘youngest population’ in the world,  creating of such ‘knowledge networks’ across domains and connecting/networking them with other ‘global social networks’ would create a lot of value.  For some trends in social networks you can check link http://www.technologyreview.com/printer_friendly_article.aspx?id=15908  In line with the trends its likely that ‘mobile’ will play a central role in the ‘socal networking’ future .

Hope you are convinced of value of social networks and be as much part of it by using it as by contributing to it. Sure there is always a risk you will not find the right content or people will not contribute or….. but the web is getting ‘smarter’ all the time :o)

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Written by srinivasreddy

February 22, 2007 at 8:47 pm

Posted in Technology

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