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The Problem With Social Web Applications

Posted in Startups and Business, Technology, Web 2.0 and Social Media by engtech on September 18, 2007

Social Software and You

This is an exciting time because unlike traditional software that runs on your computer [1], web applications are created as social software where you have a friends list, collaborate on a document with multiple people and it is easily to share information and communicate. The downside is these networks consume a lot of attention and too much time is wasted building profiles and adding friends — for some of these sites building a profile and adding friends is the only utility they have.

Brad Fitzpatrick touches on this with his social graph problem — we need a way of moving our social network around with us as exportable and importable data. Read/Write Web has an overview of the issues behind the social graph problem. Companies like Facebook and MySpace capitalize on the network effect — the more of your friends who utilize the site, the more useful the site is to you — while Plaxo is one of the companies who are targeting the problem of creating a portable social network you can use on any web site.

There are two fundamental problems with using social web apps. The first is the lack of a unique identifier on the web — you know who you are but there is no way for two websites to know that you are the same person. Email addresses are one way to solve this problem. OpenID is another way to solve the problem of identity on the Internet, but it is fraught with it’s own issues such as too many providers / not enough consumers, who owns your OpenID and how trivial it is for someone to steal your OpenID authentication through phishing. OpenID is better than captcha for leaving web comments, but I wouldn’t trust it with my credit card information.

The second problem with social web apps is social network fatigue. The average person has the time to actively use 2 to 5 social web sites and become part of a community on them. No one has the time to be part of more sites than that, and we get burn out from having to create accounts and add friends on sites after site. This is called social network fatigue and has spawned spoofs like BugrOff and Social Networking Rehab, as well as applications like Delicious Stumbles and Social Poster to make it easier to maintain profiles on multiple sites.

If you’re a new social software company then it’s hard to attract users because of all the incumbent sites who already have their attention; if you’re an old social software then it’s hard to keep users because so much of the initial addiction comes from adding friends. (Not that they’re really your friends, but you know what I mean)

Tomorrow I’ll explain the techniques used to promote a social web applications [2].

[1] Of course, having a dedicated application on your computer is usually a million times more efficient than running an application in a web browser.

[2] aka Why Yahoo Mash Sucks

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14 Responses

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  1. baredfeetandteeth said, on September 19, 2007 at 5:44 am

    I loathe “social web applications” with every fibre of my being. They’re like heroine without the slimming benefits.

    Oh sure, you meet new crowds of folks with similar interests. It’s little more than a laugh for the first little while, all in good fun, but it feeds on your soul man. You say you can quit. Oh, you believe it. But face it, dude, once they’ve sucked you in, that’s it. You’re done for. May as well book your dirty corner of backalley Intertubia now, my friend. Say goodbye to your grasp on time management and reality. You’re not getting out. You’re finished.

    *flicks a cigarette butt, spits at a stranger and returns to her own dirty little corner”

    …I also hate text action.

  2. engtech said, on September 19, 2007 at 10:03 am


    Yup, it’s true. As I was writing this comment I went to see what my twitter friends were up to, and then started clicking on links.

    20 minutes later I found myself in a dark alley on Suicide Girls, ostensibly reading Warren Ellis but really looking at the pictures in the sidebar.

    I still can’t find my pants.

  3. baredfeetandteeth said, on September 19, 2007 at 10:59 am

    The whole thing is a conspiracy to keep the most educated, able and advantaged generation ever to walk the planet under the thumb of the Man. Then again…that might just be the internet.

  4. Tony said, on September 19, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    I’m tired of endless online profiles. I kind of like the idea of using Microformats for social network portability, though then again that just makes a yet another copy of your very basic profile information. I have an extensive online “profile” – it’s my blog.

    So thx for the Yahoo Mash invite, but I’m not going to bother with it.

  5. engtech said, on September 19, 2007 at 12:29 pm


    Good call on not bothering with the Yahoo Mash invite. I had send a
    custom email explaining the service to people and that I was sending
    out invites because they weren’t freely available and in case people
    were interested — but Mash used their own spammy email instead of my
    handcrafted one. Bad bad bad.

  6. brightfeather said, on September 19, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    I have time for posting to only one or 2 social networks at most. My stats indicate that they do not secure me many visitors so I won’t be putting out any increased efforts in that regard. I also received the Yahoo Mash invite and deleted it.

    thanks for posting this well researched and interesting topic. I appreciate the work you put into your blog posts very much. :)

  7. flairandsquare said, on September 19, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    This is a really great blog, I’m so glad Google led me here after a search on Social Networking users.
    I love the design, I love that I didn’t want to leave because there was so much good stuff to read. I’ll be back, your on my radar.
    I love that as a struggling innovator and boundary pusher in an educational institution, I can come here for some respite, some tips and some workarounds.
    Thank you.

  8. engtech said, on September 20, 2007 at 8:02 am


    Thanks you for the compliments.

  9. Webomatica said, on September 21, 2007 at 9:52 am

    Agree with Tony up there. Obviously those of us who blog put the most effort into that and pretty much anything you’d want to know about me (that I want to make public) is on the blog. So filling out these little online social networking profiles is getting more and more tiresome.

    It seems more and more that these social networking sites are busy creating little walled gardens of their own instead of moving towards an open situation – which was what Web 2.0 was supposed to be partly about in the first place – how quickly things change one monetization comes in. Bah…

  10. engtech said, on September 21, 2007 at 12:28 pm


    Yup, it’s a complete waste of time. I spent yesterday afternoon doing consulting for someone who was thinking about starting an internet business. One of my key points was to “own” everything you create rather than add value to someone else’s product — if it’s open and you own it then you’ve never wasted time because you can do something with it.

    But if it’s closed and you don’t own it then all your data is siloed and trapped in the platform and will eventually have to be moved or lost.

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  14. riverbed application acceleration said, on December 22, 2008 at 4:26 am

    I’ve found that in our network WAN accelerators have made a big difference

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