Building A Social Network In A Facebook And Twitter World

You can’t go an entire day without encountering Facebook and Twitter – even if you don’t have an account. Whether you ride the subway or take the bus, you’ll see people young and old updating their status or talking about the latest social-networking drama. If you watch the television or listen to the radio, you’ll be driven to the Twitter or Facebook accounts of celebrities, brands and non-profits. If you do come across the rare people who are not on Facebook, they sound like cavemen – and they know it; they are talking about signing up soon. In such an environment, it is easy to conclude that this dominance will last forever.

But it won’t. 

I concluded in a post in August that “maybe Twitter isn’t for everyone.” Twitter peaked in total reach that month, at least in terms of U.S. unique visitors, according to analytics services Compete and comScore (NSDQ: SCOR). Facebook, on the other hand, is for everyone – everyone who has friends or family, which happens to be everyone on the planet.

But it can’t be everything to everyone.

In particular, we should not conflate the fact of Facebook’s and Twitter’s dominance of social media with the reason for their dominance: the emergence of the stream as a media form. The stream as a media form is what is often lost in the narrative of the rise of Facebook and Twitter and the focus on the personalities that drove the success. As a media form, the stream will evolve away from the monolith it is today, into something differentiated, varied and dynamic.

Facebook is the broadcast television network of stream communication. It pioneered the stream as a media form and popularized it for a mass audience by connecting friends, classmates and family. Like NBC’s fuzzy black-and-white 1947 World Series, the stream of 10 years from now will look nothing like the stream of today.

Over the coming decade, at least two types of winners will emerge from the stream wars. The first set of winners will be the creators of proprietary, differentiated streams. Some of those companies will create their own programming, while others will rely on the second set of winners – production houses, the social-media equivalents of Sony (NYSE: SNE) Pictures and Warner Brothers – to create it for them. Companies like Zynga and Playfish are the modern-day production houses, churning out applications for the social networks.