A couple of months ago, amidst service outages galore, the Web 2.0 fishbowl was all a-Twitter about leaving Twitter for the latest microblogging/lifestreaming flavor of the month. Â Prominent lifestreamers were declaring Twitter dead and telling their many followers to follow them on over to their new preferred service, whether it was FriendFeed, Plurk, Identi.ca or something else. Â
And yet, here we are a couple of months later, and Twitter is still the predominant site of that type and far from dead. Â
Which begs the question: now that many of these types of social networking sites are finally achieving more widespread mainstream appeal, are the “influencers” really all that influential?
Last December, Ad Age reported that social networking sites had achieved near total youth market penetration, with 96% of online tweens and teens logging on to a socnet at least weekly. Â According to InsideFacebookÂ (emphasis mine):
“Overall, Social Networking total audience grew 64 million (12%) during the last 6 months. (Thatâ€™s over twice as fast as the total internet audience.)“
Despite those recent growth reports, things appear to be leveling off, at least in the U.S. Â Additionally,a recent Synovate study reported that 58% of adults worldwide don’t even know what “social networking” is, and 45% of U.S. internet users are reporting that they are losing interest in social networks. Â Â
So what gives with the supposedly conflicting information? Â Is social networking growing, or collapsing?
I personally think that rather than either of those options, social networking is maturing. Â In the same way that a teenager experiences rapid and extremely uneven growth before settling into a more or less adult body, social networking has experienced some rapid and uneven growth. Â
Now, I think people are beginning to move out of that “try every new thing that comes up” stage and moving into getting comfortable and settling in to the communities that they’ve determined are the right fit for their individual needs and preferences. Â
Maybe they’re just not following the cool kids to the latest hangouts anymore like mindless adolescent lemmings. Â
The truth is, no media will ever achieve 100% market penetration. Â “Mainstream adoption” is a sort of nebulous, floating concept in many respects. Â Even if you assume “mainstream” starts with over 50% adoption, then you have to ask “50% of what group?” Â All adults? Â The total population including kids? All internet users? Â Â
For my purposes here, the definition of “mainstream adoption” is “main street adoption.” Â I’m overhearing blue collar folks in a Kentucky town with a population of 167 talk about their Myspace profile. Â In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten a half-dozen friend requests in Facebook from old high school classmates, and my rural high school’s graduating class was 168 people. Â
Yeah, those are two very small personal anecdotes–but I’m also hearing a lot of folks inside the web 2.0/tech/marketing bubble talking about how many of their “outside the bubble” friends have recently discovered sites like Facebook and Twitter. Â But there’s evidence from the mainstream media, too, if you consider all the emphasis that’s been put on the effect of social networks in this year’s election. Â Unlike in previous elections, they’re not talking about the political blogosphere–they’re talking about average, individual voters who are already on Facebook and Myspace. Â
If we can assume that social networks are rapidly approaching mainstream adoption, if not already there by your personal definition, then I think we have to assume that there is going to be some significant slowdown in their movement from one social site to another.
It may be a matter of months, or it may be a matter of a couple of years, but I think the sun is setting on the Day of the Social Media Pioneer. Â Welcome to the dawn of the Social Media Homesteader. Â
There will still be leaders and influencers in social networking. Â There always are in any society. Â But I think that status isn’t going to be determined primarily by being the guy or girl who got there first. Â Those leaders and influencers will probably look, in actual practice, much more like a community manager, administrator, or moderator than a “guru.” Â
And I don’t think their primary directives are going to be “Let’s all pack up and move West. Â Again.”Â