A narrow view and widgets work for social networks

Last month, AmericaSkiing.com, a Web site for skiing and snowboard­ing enthusiasts, announced a new social networking site designed exclusively for the skiing and snowboarding industry. It was one of many social networks aimed at a niche market that launched during the past year.

Jeremiah Owyang, analyst at Forrest­er Research, says that these niche sites are working. “These sites make sense for people who want to have a more intimate and private conversation than on Facebook or MySpace,” he said.

Owang cites the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, lets parents of dis­abled kids find each other and discuss the issues involved in their lives togeth­er, as a good example.

While the continued growth of so­cial networking giants Facebook and MySpace has proved that consumers are engaged in social networking on­line, are consumers really going to want to access a different social network for every interest?

Some smaller social networks are hav­ing a difficult time keeping up with the popularity of social networking giants. For example, Condé Nast’s social net­work for teen girls Flip.com is nearing its first anniversary — however, the oc­casion is not marked by growth. Flip allows teen girls to create portfolios or “flipbooks” of their creative work. To deal with its low subscriber numbers, Flip is making its social networking tools more available where the consum­ers are, more specifically, on Facebook. Flip profiles have become portable and can be applied to Facebook and, as of March 5, Flip.com’s branded art port­folio-making tools will be available on Facebook.

“Rather than creating a whole social network and trying to get people to come to us, we are taking our toys to the girls where they are,” said Jane Grenier, publisher of Flip.com.

Widget technology has exploded since Facebook opened its platform last fall. As functionality continues to grow, social profiles will become even more portable. Owyang says that this will work for open-minded brands, because it allows brand advocates to come to a site and bring their friends.

“But brands have to make sure that the customer experience is good, be­cause consumers can just as easily take their friends away,” Owyang warned  


  • More niche social networks have launched in the past year
  • These sites provide a highly targeted audience with person­alized messaging opportunities
  • A niche network’s widgetscan leverage a larger audience on Facebook or MySpace
  • As profiles become more portable, competition for users’ attention will increase
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