Over and over again, people tell me that one of the YASNS is *far* better than any of the other ones. Usually, they want me to agree with them. Sometimes, people just ask me which one i think is best.
Given that this is me, i have a problem with this question. My problem is not personal or political… it’s contextual. In this case, “best” is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, i often ask people what *they* want in a YASNS. Almost always, there’s one overwhelming factor that makes one YASNS better than another for the individual: “people like me.”
In a post-finals hallucinatory state, i decided to attend a gathering with some of my peers last December. A group gathered into a “panel” to talk about social software. One very smart, very respected VC spoke about how she believed that LinkedIn was hands down the best YASNS. I found myself speaking… or more accurately exploding because of her conception. It’s not that i don’t believe that LinkedIn was the best for her – i truly do. It’s that i don’t believe that there is a universal best.
When i was interviewing early Friendster adopters about the site, over and over again, they told me that they loved it because it was a site fool of cool hipsters like them. They identified with the people on the site and they loved feeling like everywhere they turned, they saw other people that they thought were cool. They were not looking forward to it being mainstream because then there will be duds on the system. Each sub-hipster group was likely to run across more people like them depending on their linking structure. (Homophily again.) Because most people joined under one context, they never saw the other “non-hipsters” that they dealt with in everyday life. When that started happening, they were disappointed.
When Orkut exploded, all of the social software fiends jumped on the train like it was going to Disney World. It was the end-all be-all of the YASNS. Of course it was… to them… It was filled with people like them – their colleagues, those that they respect, etc. It felt like home.
Guess what? At Tribe.net, there are lots of people who feel at home and spend exorbitant hours on the service. Same with MySpace. Same with Everyone’s Connected. Same with Live Journal.
The battle is not simply about the best tools. In fact, that’s a truly secondary issue. It’s about motivating a coherent group to join, participate and make it home. What makes the best pub? Is it really the beer or the price? Hell, the only reason that the music usually matters is because it draws people that you like to the pub. It’s the combination of environment and people.. but the environment brings the people so the environment DOES matter.
There’s an architectural lesson there… Environment matters because it draws the right people. This is why niche shit works. The biggest joke about the Internet is that the most profitable services are barely public. They address a niche market completely. One of the most unfortunate things about social software is that everyone is trying to court everyone to their service. Frankly, a far more appropriate response would be to try to figure out which users are most suited for your tool given its current state and then try to meet their needs completely. Figure out your audience. And don’t simply focus on your desired audience because the tool you created may not have met their needs… be able to shift if you find that you’ve built something far more appropriate for another group. Cause frankly? If you have, the users know it and are using it more completely there.
[Note: Friendster’s popularity in Asia isn’t because it’s a good tool; it’s because the way the site was structured met that population’s needs/desires without much translation. It was inadvertently and accidentally best for them, not well designed for them.]