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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Death of a social network

Like tens of thousands of others, I got an email this week telling me of the demise of iYomu, a New Zealand-based social network designed to appeal to grown-ups.

Like tens of thousands of others, I took at look at iYomu at the beginning and enjoyed its colourful promotional campaign - a slick series of puzzles created in Flash. The idea was that you solved the puzzles and went into a draw to win $1 million.

But you had to acquire a certain number of points to go in the draw and the puzzles only accounted for so many of them. The rest came from filling out a really involved profile form and signing up lots and lots of friends.

Which was the point at which they lost me.

I had no interest in filling in endless details about myself and I had no intention of signing up friends before I knew whether or not I liked the service or what it had to offer. It felt coercive.

I came back a couple of times to look around but didn't know anyone using the service and didn't feel like I needed to. I already had Facebook, after all, where I knew lots of people, and LinkedIn and Twitter etc.

It seems to me that we join social networks that already have a critical mass of users we already know, or want to know. Once you've joined one or three, most of us don't need or have the time to sign up with more. Opportunities therefore lie not in creating ever more social networks, but in linking and adding value to them - which is what lifestreaming applications like FriendFeed are trying to do.

That said, Richard MacManus argues in his post about iYomu on ReadWriteWeb this week that he still thinks there's room for a niche social network for adults. Something less breathless than Facebook presumably and with a more settled, considered crowd of users.

He's probably right. I don't use much on Facebook apart from messaging and a few applications like Scrabulous (an online adapatation of Scrabble) and Shelfari to track the books I'm reading (but that's offline as much as it's on so I'm looking for an alternative).

But I've yet to come across anything that's sufficiently appealing to encourage not just me but all my friends to move. Not that they're all in one place anyway, I talk to some friends through Facebook, some through Gtalk instant messaging, some through email, text, Skype and Twitter. Occasionally I even pick up the phone.

Age alone isn't enough of a point of differentiation, given, for example, that I have friends ranging in age from 20-80, that it's shared interests, humour and worldviews that attract me to people not their age, and that adults with children want to be on Facebook sometimes precisely because their children are - they want to know what their children's world is like and be part of it.

iYomu had one or two other shortcomings. For a start, I couldn't leave it. I tried but was told the only way to quit was to delete my profile information, but when I tried to do so the form wouldn't save with no information in it, or even with limited information, so I was back to square one. It's not a good idea to trap people.

Then there were the emails that came from time to time advertising $100 spot prizes and $1000 Cash Grabber prizes which expired within 24 hours and so required you to keep coming back to the site. There was something a bit desperate about them.

That said, I'm sorry for the creators, who had what looked like a good idea and gave it a whirl. Let's hope they have better luck with their next venture.