No one really knows why birds migrate. Scientists can conjecture all they want, but until a Canadian goose pipes up and says, “Yeah, it’s because of food and a safe place to breed,” we can only guess. If that actually happens, my bet is migratory patterns will be the least of our worries.

Flock of BirdsLike birds, the flocks of social networking users tend to move from one place to another (though not often back) in our online environment. While the flock seems to have settled on Facebook recently, where shall we go next? My hypothesis is that we, too, are looking for food (connection to those of like mind) and a safe place to breed (privacy or freedom from the intrusion of marketing messages). But to analyze where we’re going, we must understand where we’ve been.

First there was sixDegrees, noted as the first social networking site to combine profile creation, friends listing and (the kicker) public surfing of friend lists. Classmates.com didn’t add these features until later but when it did, became the second stop on the social networking migration. Classmates offered something SixDegrees did not: A framework in which to find your friends. You could find people you went to school with, one of the primary reasons most social networking users list as why they originally signed on.

Then came LiveJournal, which added an element of blogging to the picture. Ryze’s launch in 2001 sparked the rise of profession-based social networking as LinkedIn came into the picture. Friendster entered the picture about this point as well, and almost became the first major social networking site. Still, while individuals had favorite sites where they explored and spend time, there was no great migratory shift that pulled people away from one site and toward another.

Until MySpace. Sure, it was labeled (correctly then, not so much now) as a site for teenagers, there’s no debating its extraordinary growth. As MySpace began its rise, the initial inklings of Facebook started at Harvard, Yahoo! 360, YouTube, Bebo and Ning all came into the picture. While these niche and smaller efforts at social networking did little but muddy the waters, the over-commercialization of MySpace was priming the online world for its first major migratory shift.

Then 2006 came and Facebook lifted its .edu requisites. Suddenly there was a warmer south and the flocks began to move.

Yet, a funny thing happened on the way to Facebook. People realized they didn’t have to leave MySpace. Our attention deficit disorder society developed the ability to multitask in the social networking environment and many of us maintained both MySpace and Facebook accounts, as well as identities in several other networks.

(For the purposes of this discussion, YouTube, Flickr and the like are considered User Generated Content sites more so than social networking sites, though they each contain elements of community building components.)

Still, you would have to be a fool not to recognize the world’s obsession with Facebook. The under-commercialization of the environment fits perfectly with the online user, one who has fled to the Internet to escape the 5,000+ marketing message inundation we call our daily routine.

In general terms, the flow from SixDegrees to ClassMates to LiveJournal to MySpace to Facebook is somewhat mythological. Most users of MySpace weren’t allowed on the computer when SixDegrees or ClassMates were hitting stride. Still, the early adopters have made those transitions. The reasons for shifting have also changed. SixDegrees to Classmates was likely the result of the framework for search and explosive popularity. Moving to LiveJournal or MySpace was likely the result of functionality as well as popularity.

And the shift to Facebook brings with it another varied reason. How many times have you read a post or heard a complaint (or thought it yourself) that MySpace is just too commercial, too busy. Facebook is an alternative.

Now Facebook, and its related community, is all lathered up over its social advertising model. While they promise to remain clutter-free and clean, is this the impetus that will open the door to the next big thing? Will the implementation of Artificial Intelligence guiding our marketing exposures simply wig everyone out as opposed to making our Facebook experience more contextual and convenient?

And if it’s the former, what social networking site or service is poised to take the reigns? Will there be a new monster site on the horizon or will we break off into microcommunities, thus detaching ourselves from the greater society?

Is this the apex of the pendulum?

I’ve posed this question to some academics. As I await their response, what is yours?

IMAGE: “Flock of Birds” by Picture Perfect Pose on Flickr

For more on the history of social networking, including a cool timeline graphic I haven’t yet secured permission to put here, go see “Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship by danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison.

[tags]migration, social networking, networking, Facebook, MySpace, internet behavior[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://nickhuhn.com nick huhn

    Flocking is the right metaphor to use with social media, but I think time and time again it’s often more like a herd of lemmings that seems to guide adoption and participation. I’ve created, maintained, and subsequently abandoned profiles on the networks you mentioned and several more, but I’m sticking with Facebook because of the infinitely easy ways to find contacts with similar interests or behaviors I’d like to adopt or emulate.

    Critical mass is key to the flocking principle as well. As social networks become even more federated (linkedin, flickr, mybloglog…) but concurrently develop aggregator-agnostic APIs, I think a ‘lifestyle aggregator’ platform like Facebook makes it easier to achieve critical mass through the applications and services that integrate the many elements of my digital life.

    In short, I think OpenSocial aims for this same power but Facebook already does it well and today. Ultimately I think FB and the many integrated elements it hosts will become just another spoke in the wheel of my digitally aggregated lifestyle. The ‘next migration’ IMO will be a function of whatever is most convenient for me in terms of social and commercial interaction.

    If I’m traveling and want to find a quick read or movie to download for my flight, I’ll just tap into some aggregated, intelligent [behaviorally predictive] resource that will instantaneously poll my Amazon purchases, iTunes library, magazine subscriptions, RSS feeds, Facebook groups, LinkedIn interests, etc. to give me a list of the most relevant choices. Ergo, as networks evolve into hubs of meshed personal info and behavioral patterns the only migration needed is more of my private information and personal preferences into public spaces. OpenSocial + Beacon + aggregated lifestyle feeds + [rapid advancements in AI] = what’s next.

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  • djmedina3000

    We are a progressive culture always looking fot the next thing. Unlike birds who will return to the place that best suits there needs, we are always looking for the next big thing. Boredom plays a big part in this. I am bored with facebook, i joined facebook because i was bored with myspace. I found this article with a google search for “What's after Facebook” because i am already looking for somthing different.

    -Medina

    • earl parker

      I got bored of Facebook as well. I closed it a couple times, then reopened. finally closed it for good. they block u from posting videos now. and do more and more suggestions and shit. I just wasn't getting out of it what I wanted to, it's a nice idea, but people are too self centered in this day and age. I always thought there should of been more contests, best status update, or photograph, etc.

  • djmedina3000

    We are a progressive culture always looking fot the next thing. Unlike birds who will return to the place that best suits there needs, we are always looking for the next big thing. Boredom plays a big part in this. I am bored with facebook, i joined facebook because i was bored with myspace. I found this article with a google search for “What's after Facebook” because i am already looking for somthing different.

    -Medina

  • standemon

    call the goverment facebook and all stupid social sites must die….get out of your house and destroy the electronics devices :D then you will be really happy…hapiness is out there not here:)

  • standemon

    call the goverment facebook and all stupid social sites must die….get out of your house and destroy the electronics devices :D then you will be really happy…hapiness is out there not here:)

  • MTowas

    Facebook is here to stay. I remember when people were all anti-email how sad not to see the script of pen and paper, etc. Whatevs. Deal with change, people.

  • Johncallaghan

    The next great social network site where the migration will begin to go to will dwarf facebook, it will have at least three billion members.

  • Kellerbe9

    I don't even understand the article at best yet, but I think most of you are missing some key information. The writer is trying to get you to see something. Do you see that something? The writer said something about artificial intelligence. Talk about birds, that flew right over most of your heads. How would you like to be the next human robot? So if we are sleep walking, were are we being led? That's the real question.

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