Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fast Pitch! 2010

I'm often asked during interviews what online social networking might look like over the next few years - and more specifically, what changes will be made to Fast Pitch! during that time. In response I often find myself being coy with regards to Fast Pitch!, however there are a few larger concepts I'm always willing to espouse. For the sake of this blog entry, I thought I'd breakdown five things I see happening in the next three years:
  1. Interactivity - communication within a social networking platform will become far more synchronous using live streaming video. Currently, there are a couple of websites that allow you to stream live video of youself to the outside world. Websites like Stickam and Justin.tv are growing at a steady rate, attracting mostly teenagers who lack any inhibition about broadcasting themselves to the outside world. It's possible that today's popular social networks (Facebook, Myspace, etc.) which currently lack this feature... may begin to lose market share to other platforms built around this type of experience. When that happens, you will begin to see the big boys embedding the technology into your profile overnight... which will completely change the social networking experience as you now know it.

    As far as live streaming video within an online business network like Fast Pitch!- this may take a little more time to evolve. However, like anything else - once people begin to find success using streaming video across other social platforms, the expectation for that type of functionality within a business network will be in demand.

    Developers at Fast Pitch! have experimented with streaming video within our profiles. Our verdict so far: It's still way too early for live streaming video within a business network.

  2. Pay to Play - Eventually, all social networks will begin to offer enhanced levels of membership designed to provide unique advantages to the end-user. This is already happening within business networks such as Fast Pitch!, LinkedIn, Xing and others as most business professionals understand the value of being able to connect with other professionals in a more efficient manner. Many people have even argued that business networks may become far more valuable than some of the pure social networks (Myspace, Facebook) for two reasons: a) Diversified Revenue - Business platforms are not soley dependent on advertising revenue and can therefore survive fluctuations in the economy. b) Loyalty - The lifespan of a member of a business network has the potential to be much longer than an adolescent using a social network which may be perceived as a fad.

    That being said, I do think that social networks like Myspace and Facebook will begin to seek creative ways to generate 'membership' revenues. As people become more and more invested in their profiles, they will be less likely to leave the network even if forced to pay something nominal for the same service they currently receive for free.

  3. Personal Networks FOR SALE - If this isn't already happening, it will soon. Growing a sizable personal network on sites like Fast Pitch!, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc... can be a full-time job, but also one that can become quite lucrative provided the right product or service is offered to the audience. For example, let's assume I am a night club owner in New York City with a profile on MySpace... and I spend an entire year connecting with thousands of 21 - 30 year old women throughout Manhattan. Once connected, I now have the ability to post comments, send messages, etc... to all of these women anytime I want.

    How valuable might that network be to other night club owners? Clothing Designers? Politicians? You get the point... a highly targeted personal network in the thousands might command a sizeable pricetag. I wouldn't be shocked to see someone's network for sale on Ebay in the coming months. You heard it here first.

  4. Mobile - Location based interactivity leveraging information contained within the profile of a social network will become the norm. So for example... let's assume I have 100 people in my network on Fast Pitch! Using the data contained on each persons profile, my cellphone will alert me when someone in my network is within say, 100 yards of me. Once alerted, I can quickly review the person's profile and make an informed decision about whether to strike up a conversation. Conversely, that person will also receive an alert about my proximity. From a business standpoint, such technology can create new business opportunities that otherwise might never happen.

    Up until now, a few select services (i.e. Dodgeball) have attempted to incorporate such technology into our lives, but with little success. Many cellphone carriers have been reluctant to embrace such technology - due in large part (my guess) to privacy concerns. Also, most of these services lack the ability to attract a large userbase which is what makes the service so valuable.

    So what will change all of this you ask?


    Once Facebook reaches 100 million users (probably within the next year), their ability to convince a large cellphone carrier to embrace location based networking will become easy. Any cellphone company looking for an advantage over the competition will gladly play along for a chance to penetrate 100 million active users. In other words, the market will dictate everything. Myspace and others will soon follow... forcing other carriers to offer location based networking as well... which will open the floodgates for smaller platforms like Fast Pitch! to offer the feature.

    I can't wait. The information we capture within our profile will make this experience extremely targeted for our users... something no other platform will match!

  5. Better 'Targeted' Advertising - Microsoft recently valued Facebook at $15 billion dollars by investing $250 million dollars into the company for a very small percentage of ownership. This valuation is due in large part to the potential of Facebook's advertising model in the years ahead. By collecting and organizing so much data about each user, the potential for hyper-targeted advertising seems obvious. One would guess that with such a war chest, Facebook has the potential to come up with THE killer advertising application. It's not there yet (far from it - I would argue that Fast Pitch! can do a better job of targeting than Facebook... but that's for another entry:)), but my guess is that we'll be that much closer to the 'holy grail' advertisers have been waiting for.

So in summary... your social networking experience in the year 2010 might look like this.

You own a business... you join a network for $10 per month... you kick-start you presence on the network by spending $1,000 to purchase someone else's network of 5,000 people... you have live video conversations with many of these people on a daily basis... and improptu meetings around town as your cellphone alerts you to their proximity. Meanwhile, you end up buying a new printer from Office Depot off of an ad that ran at the beginning of a streaming video conversation you just had - in large part because you mentioned that you needed a printer. Which leads me to a possible #6...

6. Enhanced Voice Recognition - Embedded throughout the network and listening to your every word...

To the future...