Screw virality! Antisocial networks are on the rise
I’ve compared Mark Zuckerberg to Bill Gates before. It’s both a flattering and unflattering comparison.
The parallels aren’t perfect, but both men have built huge and defensible businesses by commanding monopoly-like positions in our digital lives. Microsoft controlled the desktop, and Facebook, like it or not, is the world’s best social graph. It won social the way Google won search. Google+ isn’t pulling an Android-like spoiler. It’s done.
But as we all know, just because it’s comprehensive, doesn’t mean Facebook is the best place to have every connection and conversation. And now we’re starting to see a fascinating new trend: the rise of the anti-viral, anti-social network.
An anti-social network isn’t as simple as being a mere Facebook alternative, or a niche social network. Those have both been tried in spades, and have failed along the way, even when Facebook was weaker. As much as people had issues with Facebook’s loosey-goosey privacy policies, the alternatives haven’t generated much more than headlines. Niche social networks for, say, Baby Boomers, moms, and dog lovers haven’t taken off either.
Turns out if you want to have conversations with people you know, plan events, and share photos, Facebook is the place to go. It’s too hard to compete with that. It’s similar to how I recently wrote that the Instagram for video wound up being… well, Instagram.
How do you succeed against Facebook? The same way that desktop and small business software companies have always managed to succeed against Microsoft: By finding “white space.” In Microsoft’s most powerful days, that was the first question the press or a VC would ask: Does Microsoft compete with you now, and, if not, how do you know they won’t?
When it comes to building a consumer Web company around human relationships, the smartest entrepreneurs aren’t thinking niche. They are thinking orthogonal. There’s a difference.
Niche means that Facebook could do it, but you think you could do it better. That’s what loses. What seems to win, so far, are the approaches that do what Facebook couldn’t do, by design.
Look at the core things Facebook does well: photos, connecting you with everyone you know, providing a permanent record, and real identity. These are the exact four things that have made Facebook a powerful company with users and advertisers; these are the four things it can’t betray and hope to succeed.
So among the threats to Facebook, you’ve got Snapchat, which is inherently temporary; Whisper, which is inherently anonymous; and Nextdoor or Life360 (the sponsor of this series), where you can only connect with neighbors or family. Nextdoor is particularly extreme, making you verify residence before you can connect to a network. Many of these are inherently non-viral. Nextdoor at one point relied more on stickers – physical, not virtual, stickers that you put up around the neighborhood – for marketing than on spamming address books....MORE