The Anatomy of a Successful Social Network

“What the world really needs is another social network,” is probably what no one, anywhere thought upon waking up this morning. As far as saturated markets go, this one is Portobello on a wet Monday morning, yet it still seems like not a week goes by without another Facebook pretender launching to provide us with a distraction from the day-to-day and a way to share the details of our lives with friends and strangers.

A quick Google search for ‘social networking’ has led me to discover specific social domains devoted to everyone from members of the ‘gothic and industrial subculture’ to ‘jet-setters and the social elite’, not to mention ‘people with intimate inclinations toward inmates’ and, perhaps most bafflingly of all, ‘teenagers between the ages of 10-17’. Oh, the good old days of being tenteen.

You would think then, when so many alternatives abound, that unless a site had a handle on a specific niche – perhaps catering for people who don’t actually like social networks but are bored because all of their friends are glued to Facebook, for instance – that a successful SM business model at this point would be all but impossible to achieve. The people behind Pinterest, however, seem to have found differently.

The first I heard of the Pinterest was when a friend of mine accidentally ‘pinned’ thirteen different wedding dresses to her Facebook wall, presumably not realising the two sites were connected and that everyone was going think that she’d turned into a lunatic marriage obsessive. Slightly embarrassing? Maybe. But had she not actually been in the process of organising a wedding it probably would have been far worse.

Based on what the Americans would call ‘scrapbooking’, the new ‘top-ten’ social media site is a way of visually displaying all the wonderful tidbits you find online; a kind of virtual bricolage; something akin to walking into a teenager’s bedroom where their personality is spread from wall to wall in the form of photographs, sketches and posters.

You can organise your ‘scrapbooks’ into specific categories, like ‘wedding stuff’ as the case with my friend was, or ‘things I’m going to make Ryan Gosling buy me when I kidnap him’ as I imagined it might be before she explained herself. The site is currently in an invite-only stage, which makes it hard for me to share exactly what kind of interaction it entails, but despite its limited accessibility Pinterest already has 12 million unique monthly users.

The question then is, why? Why should Pinterest be any different from ‘Google Buzz’ or ‘Yahoo! 360’ in terms of its success? In fact, why should any social network be more popular than the next? I suppose it really boils down to what our needs are; why we flock to these sites in the first place. If we can figure this out then surely we can pinpoint the attributes of the perfect social network, get filthy rich and be living a life of luxury by next Thursday lunch.

Pinterest in many ways holds a clue in the fact that it taps into something fundamentally human – the urge to share your passions with others. Showing how much you enjoy something is in fact declaring something about the type of person you are. It’s about asserting your identity; saying, ‘look at all this great stuff I like, this is what makes me ‘me’.’

Human beings, after all, are social creatures. We crave company and acceptance and platforms on which to present ourselves. The internet in many ways offers a level playing field for this, providing unrestricted access to people with similar interests from all over the world.

The perfect social network then would give people a voice, help them link with those that are like-minded, keep them in touch with relevant news and entertainment and keep friends and acquaintances no more than a click away. It would also, if we were to be honest, enable them to spy on their exes once in a while.

The thing is, almost all social networks, both those that are successful and those that have failed, provide these things. So I still don’t understand why Pinterest has struck such a chord. Or why we could possibly need any more ways to update statuses or share photos. Having said that, it would probably be easier for me to understand if they’d actually send me a password and let me on the site.

In fact, maybe that ‘exclusivity’ has something to do with its popularity. It’s not dissimilar to when Google + was invite only and everyone was eager to clamber aboard. Now it seems to be the social networking equivalent of the toasty maker – everybody’s got one but no one ever uses it.


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