David Mattin discovers a new crop of sites that hope to challenge Facebook's title as the king of social media. At least two newcomers are willing to pay users to help them do it
Facebook posted an artsy video on its front page this week to announce a milestone. The site now has one billion active users: that is, users logging in at least once a month. That makes the social network twice as large as it was in July 2010, when it hit the 500 million mark.
In a connected world, it's easy to become blasť about numbers such as this. But consider the implications for a moment. About one in every six people on Earth now share a common language of status update, "comments" and "likes". If you were to spend a minute on each Facebook profile page, you'd need 1,900 years to get through them all.
So Facebook's position is insurmountable, right? There's no chance of another social network surpassing it this late in the day?
Don't tell that to the entrepreneurs and technologists behind a spate of next-generation social networks launched this year. Their hope - to gain ground on and overtake Mark Zuckerberg's baby - might sound ridiculous on first hearing, but is it really? After all, there's no law saying that online social networking has to, forever, look like Facebook. And the market clearly isn't so sure: since Facebook's IPO in May, its stock has fallen from US$38 (Dh139.5) a share to $19.
Remember, only for the past six years has Facebook been open to all members of the public. So what might social networking look like in another six years?
Launched this year, amid considerable hype, Pheed (www.pheed.com) is currently the tallest among the new social network crop. Pheed users create a channel on which they can share text, audioclips, video and even live broadcast. What's more, at the click of a button they can monetise their content by setting a subscription fee. The site launched with a clutch of celebrity members, including Kim Kardashian and P Diddy.
Pheed is less online photo album and more 24-hour reality TV docusoap, in which you're the star. For a generation that has grown up with online sharing, Pheed could - and it is clearly aiming to - make Facebook's ecosystem of text, images and "Likes" seem antiquated.
Meanwhile Zurker (www.zurker.com) - currently beta-testing pre-launch - is a new social network whose users will also be its owners. Join the site and you're given "shares", each worth 1/1,000,000 of Zurker, and the option to buy more for $1 each. The plan, says the site's founder Nick Oba, is to grow towards a sale and a payday for everyone, rather than just a few (mentioning no names, Zuck). It's a clear attempt to play on bad feelings around Facebook-as-corporate-megalith and a perception that Zuck and his team are commodifying our daily lives for their own gain.
Taken together, Pheed and Zurker point the way towards a possible future for social networking. It's a future where social networks are more woven through our lives, with every minute of our day made shareable - but more collaborative, too, so that our networks become a shared space in which we all own a stake.
So could Pheed or Zurker prove a Facebook-killer? Unlikely, of course. But not impossible. After all, once upon a time the unassailable lead in social networking was held by a site called MySpace. You remember them? What about TheGlobe.com? Thought not. But you can bet the Zuck does.
David Mattin is a senior analyst at trendwatching.com