I had a small thought when reading Anya’s blog just now. She was actually commenting on a thread she had read earlier by Jeremy Pepper pondering how to increase users of a particular online community.
Very quickly, one thing is for certain: there are a lot of social networking sites out there, and new ones popping up almost every day. What’s the difference between them all? Well, that’s the key.
I think back to how my own online community experience evolved. I started out with Friendster, I think. It was aright, and fun to reconnect to a few people, but the userability was somewhat low (although I might be saying this in retrospect). Then I came across MySpace because it was the place to be if you were in a band, which I was. Outside that circle, I made a few friends, but quickly got turned onto Ryze (which I used for about a week), followed by LinkedIn (which I still use, but rarely). I feel like there were a few others because I had this friend, Chris Abraham, who was researching blogging at the time and who basically requested my friendship in just about every place you could think of.
What I’m trying to highlight here is that there’s a lot of hopping. With every new site comes the curiosity and desire to try it out. What if it’s the hot new thing? What if everyone goes there instead of where you are?
But once you get the users onto your site, the key is keeping them there. Friendster failed at this. But they were one of the first movers in the space, so we should commend them. Ryze lacked oomph, the right stuff if you will. There was nothing special there that made me want to stay. LinkedIn provides me with some utility since it is purely career-based, and I’m at the point where networking in that area is very important. One point for LinkedIn.
So far, I’m loving Facebook. And I better with all the hype. I truly think that Facebook has achieved the uniqueness needed to keep users there. The college students that signed up a few years after I graduated are still there, still using it incessantly and haven’t thought about leaving. And the new users are definitely coming in, with the 35+ age group signing up in hordes )will they stay?). It’s the largest photo archiving system online right now (and yes, that means over the actual sites that are specifically for photo archiving). Etc etc etc.
Getting users in is great, and well worth the pondering. But keeping them there is just as important, if not more. The space is changing every single day, and you need to be on top, or more ideally, ahead of those changes.