Unsocial Networks: Or why Facebook has got it wrong as Open Social is the Future

December 23, 2008

It’s 5am and the dawn chorus has started in my back garden, but I don’t mind, as it got me thinking (which is sometimes a bad thing), so I’m wide awake now!

The future for social networks is portability, I want the same freedoms online that I have in the real world, I want to be able to meet my friends where I want, I want to keep in touch with them how I choose, If we decide to meet somewhere else for a change there’s no limitations… but what’s all this to do with the dawn chorus?

Think how most social networks operate, locking in users to a closed network is the wrong approach, it’s akin to locking a bird in a cage, you let the bird out of the cage from time to time to meet other birds, but you only let them fly around within your aviary, the birds can’t get away. So the only way you can keep your birds alive & happy is to keep feeding them, making sure they have a nice place to live, and keeping those doors firmly locked! How do you pay for the up keep on the aviary? well you obviously can’t charge the birds, so you charge people to see the birds, you have sponsors that supply seed, you watch how the birds interact with one another and then profit from your research.

Let’s now think of it in a far more open way… if you put seed on a bird table in your back garden birds will come. After a while you attract more & more, they’re wild birds, they can fly away moment, yet they keep coming back. You don’t need a cage to keep them, as they’ll keep coming back as long as you respect & treat them well and give them what they want.

How do I pay for the seed or make money? the same way as before. With this analogy you could charge people to view your flock of birds, sell photos you’ve taken, you could charge users to feed the birds themselves, you could be sponsored & have grain supplied by a third party, thus promoting their product to your paying visitors, you could give presentations & talks or publish books about your experiences of running the bird sanctuaries, the list goes on.

Now imagine your neighbour does the same, he puts out a bird table, covers it with seed and attracts more birds, of course some of your birds will fly over to his table, but then some of his birds will fly over to yours, there’s no barriers, the birds can do what they want, they can fly back & forth. Then another neighbour does the same and attracts even more birds… until eventually everyone on your street has bird tables that are attracting birds from far & wide to your neighbourhood.

With this model the birds obviously benefit the most (which is great & exactly as it should be, because online, you’re the bird), the neighbourhood benefits as they get to see and study all the birds, not just the ones locked up in their cages. The sponsors benefit as they get to see which of their types of seeds are preferred & consumed the most. I could go on, but I think you’re getting the point.

If the only way you can pay for the upkeep of your caged birds & aviary is through visitors & sponsors donating seed, what happens when the sponsor stops supplying you, because they’ve chosen to supply your neighbours instead, because they have a lot more birds than you. Simple, if you can’t feed your birds, they die in their cages, unless you open the doors and let them out, they may have survived, but you’ve still lost.

You don’t want caged birds, so get rid of the cages, you want wild birds that are free to come & go as they please, if you give them what they want they’re come, and you’ll end up with a far greater result.

As with all businesses, be generous with you offerings & services, be customer focused, treat your customers with respect, give them what they want, because like a free bird they can fly off anytime they want and you’ll probably never see them again.

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2 Responses to “Unsocial Networks: Or why Facebook has got it wrong as Open Social is the Future”


  1. Brendan: Great analogy and I agree with your conclusion. Facebook has some other points of vulnerability, particularly with older Gen Y members. I think Zumeo and others that are focused on specific social networking needs — like jobs — could chip away at Facebook’s dominance. Carol Phillips


  2. Mate, this is brilliant!

    (and Carol, thank you for pointing at Brendan in the first place)

    I hope that this allows more people to have a paradigm shift in the way they are thinking about adding value to the world and in turn gaining value for themselves.

    The world of proprietary formats and environments is gone (or should be). Unforauntely there are still many areas and markets where that is the only choice, however if you have the right product or the right idea, open to the world and let them decide what they want and what they will pay for.

    Well done Brendan!


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