The Age Of The Social Network Is Ending

For his story about Secret, a Google Ventures porfolio company that launched today, Mike Isaac asked me the following question:

Just basically curious as to why you’re interested in Secret — why this after we have so many “social” apps — how different, etc.

This seems to be a common question both amongst journalists and investors. And it’s certainly a fair one. If there is indeed an “App Wall”, many of us hit it long ago. But it seems to me that things are shifting once again.

Here was my full response to Mike:

I feel like it’s increasingly folly to lump all “social” apps together as we once did. If we’re talking about social as a high-level category, Facebook won that war long ago. But as even they’re seeing now, there are powerful categories emerging that once fell under the “social” umbrella that can now stand on their own. The latest ones that interest me are based around new types of specific intents.

Photos were one of the first and largest to break free. Messaging has been all the rage the past year. But those were both obvious trends with links to the past. Now we have some different things coming into power based around varying degrees of impermanence and varying degrees of anonymity.

At first, some of these things looked a little too much like faddish trends. But the key is to look at the intent of the users actually using them. With Secret, it seems to me there’s a strong desire towards more personal expression. A slight layer of anonymity is simply a tool to draw out this expression, while an emphasis on strong connections (via the address book) makes such expressions more valuable to both senders and receivers.

I also like the combination of visuals and words to also ease these types of expressions. Ultimately, it’s of course up to the users to determine how a service is used. But the early testing of Secret has been fascinating and it should be even more so when it’s live.

As is now being made crystal clear with the pre-announcement of the new Paper product, we’re entering the era of the great unbundling of Facebook. That is, many services which would have once been placed behind the social network’s great wall, are being let out to try to stake their own claims.

This is undoubtedly an effort on Facebook’s part to make a wall with an even larger perimeter. But I don’t see it playing out that way. For every success they have (Messenger) there will be more failures (Poke). But you have to give Facebook credit for sensing a trend and trying to get out in front of it.

What trend? The single-purpose app trend. The age of the great “social network” is coming to an end. Consumers are now moving towards services1 that are much more focused. You don’t go to them to do everything “social”, you go to them to do one thing. The best of these services entice you to do that one thing over and over and over again.

(And the very best will be the first thing you check in the morning.)

As Facebook unbundles, I suspect there will be quite a few opportunities for new services to arise. None may reach the size of Facebook at its peak — which it seems like we haven’t hit quite yet. Or then again, maybe many will as mobile devices continue to blanket the entire population of the world in a way that PCs were never able to.

There is a lot of noise out there. But there is also a lot of opportunity. Because the age of the social network is ending.

  1. Almost all of which are currently in the form of apps because mobile is the only thing that really matters right now. 

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    Love the consideration here to the notion of intent behind a network.
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