Facebook’s biggest competitors are email suites

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Looks like the Facebook vs email suite (such as GMail or Outlook) discussion is finally making the rounds.

Yep. There are a lot of similarities. This has created a rush of new thinking about what’s really important for connecting with friends, family, and co-workers.

It’s not just the social networking sites that are eating into email use though, I think IM apps (like GTalk and Messenger as well as Twitter) have been doing this by providing platforms for saying the little things or for broadcasting announcements.

No matter the platform, it’s all about communicating.

As I’ve mentioned before I’m not into the idea of an all in one platform. I’m not too keen on Facebook. I’m not too keen on Outlook. I use them as needed to connect with the other people I know that use them. Because I do so many different things with so many different people on so many different computers, I have to jump around and segment my networks and how I connect to them. I could put everything into one Outlook pile and then spend much of my time trying to organize it, instead I skip around.

I think most people have multiple email addresses and use multiple email platforms for similar reasons. My nieces and nephews skip around from social networking service to social networking service the same way.

When you look at Facebook this way, doesn’t it’s value seem more temporal? It does to me. You bet advertisers would like to reach the college age demographic–it’s a good one. However, over time the network will move, just like people switch their favorite restaurant, or change houses, cars, or hobbies. Most people don’t sit in one spot forever.

This has big implications for what it means to share or move around your social network data too. Do you really want to move around everything and keep looking at it as an additive process? I don’t think so. The long term value will be in editorializing the network for you–I mean in organizing, clustering, filtering, merging, splitting, presenting your network. Maybe for awhile people will get along with the big pile style of managing their networks, but I don’t think it scales over time.

I think split networks have greater value for advertisers as well as the users. Services can try to infer who’s participating in this part or that part of the network, as it does with targetting one type of ad during Saturday morning cartoons and another during Sunday morning talk shows. However, it’s also much easier and probably just as well to place ads based on the network itself–such as the Food network versus the Cartoon network. Similarly, a teen site like MySpace might draw one group of ads, a college network like Facebook might draw another, and an R/C flyers social network (a.k.a. old style community forum with heavy YouTube-like video sharing) might draw another. (Some networks you really, really don’t want merged together, possibly like one geared around your healthcare.) Each advertiser can decide which network has the greatest value for them. And each person can decide which network has the greatest value for them at the time. One size is not going to fit all. And one size is not going to keep fitting for any given person as they grow throughout their lifetime.