Social Software Failures

December 7, 2008

On the flight from London to lovely Kentucky, I reflected on the “big buzz” at the International Online Conference. Delegates seemed fascinated by “social” software companies, features, applications, and technology. From the keynote to the endnote, social was the cat’s pajamas.

You will want to read J.W. Crump’s “A Look at Failed Social Networks”. You can find the article at here. The write up presents two cases in sufficient detail to provide useful insights into the use of “crowdsourcing” to provide various features and benefits to users. His analysis of Wal*Mart’s The Hub reveals that the service did not allow its users sufficient freedom.

The second case was VitalSkate, a site for those who enjoy ice skating. The lesson extracted from this social software service was the operator did not understand the users of the site.

The third case was iYomu, which was a social software site for folks like me who are older. Among the reasons this site failed was it was its lack of purpose.

For me, the most interesting chunk of information was the inclusion of a timeline prepared by Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison. Scanning the list is an easy way to identify the major players and the steady increase in these types of Web sites.

The thoughts that struck me as I reviewed Mr. Crump’s article were:

  1. Social networks seem to require purpose. entertainment, and keen understanding of the needs of the site’s users.
  2. Social software appeals to those who are young in heart or who a significant need and find that requirement satisfied by a service that is appropriate and fun to use.
  3. Social software and its attendant services are not a slam dunk. Despite the excitement and seem to offer services with wide appeal to a youthful demographic.

When the social “big buzz” is transported to an organization, a number of questions may require some consideration before deploying one of the zippy new services I saw demonstrated at the International Online Show; for example:

  1. A small organization may not have the number of employees and authorized users to make a social site generate sufficient traffic and information to warrant keeping the service online
  2. The cost of implementing and verifying a workable security system may be too onerous for most organizations. With a slap dash approach, the security and privacy methods may leave the organization exposed
  3. Are employees in an organization willing to participate in social software services? If the financial pressures are increasing, employees may be unwilling to allocate the time necessary to participate in meaningful ways.

I understand the interest in social software and the functions it makes available. The question is, “Will these services offer up enough tangible benefits to make the investment worthwhile?”

For me, the answer to the question is, “It depends.” Some governmental agencies and not-for-profit outfits may find social software helpful. In regulated businesses, I am skeptical.

Stephen Arnold, December 7, 2008


One Response to “Social Software Failures”

  1. Andreas Ringdal on December 7th, 2008 1:40 am

    “A small organization may not have the number of employees and authorized users to make a social site generate sufficient traffic and information to warrant keeping the service online”
    That is true regarding standalone social services. But even smaller organizations have existing systems that can be socialized.
    Many social features require a solid number of users to provide added value, but a small step such as moving documentation from word files and into a wiki opens up the documentation for internal comments and revisioning. And you practicaly do not need more than 3 persons until this provides added value to the company.

    Social services is not only about sharing, it is about participating.


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