Saturday, April 24, 2010

An Update on the Evolution of Social Networks



An Update on the Evolution of Social Networks
by Prof. Pierre Coupet


A couple of years ago, I wrote a paper titled "Evolution of Social Networks into Virtual Organizations"  which analyzed the different categories and behavioral characteristics of social network users and forecasted the eventual evolution of social networks into virtual organizations as a matter of necessity.  Just as companies who started out with just getting internet access and an email account eventually wound up with a permanent web presence out of necessity and as part of a natural process of evolution.

The response I then received from across the entire spectrum of social network users was phenomenal and universal and can be summed up as follows: Yes, I can certainly identify myself as a member of that category and am looking to do better or gain better results.  However, for the most part, it was immediately followed by "What is a virtual organization?" and "I sure would like to know more about it."

To digress a bit, I remember the day back in 1993 when I told my son that, one day,  everyone would have an email account and a presence on the net in the same way that everyone then had a phone and that no one would think much of it.  He turned around and looked at me and said "Papa, you sound like a nutty professor."  It was just too hard to believe.  Little did I know then that, one day, I would eventually become the founder of Virtual Organization Management Institute and a "professor", again a matter of natural evolution.   In fact, I recall how individuals of all stripes and persuasions, from the smallest to the largest businesses,  used to ask me "What's a website?" and a ton of other related questions.

Getting back to our discussion about social networks and my original article about their eventual evolution to virtual organizations, I get the same kind of reaction today from individuals of all stripes and persuasions, from the smallest to the largest businesses, asking me "What exactly is a virtual organization?";  except that, this time around, I also happen to be a professor.  They are not sure of what I mean by the phrase "virtual organization."  The ones who really try to keep up with this sort of stuff think that I am probably referring to either of the following: "virtual teams"; an organization that has "telecommuters"; an organization that virtualizes certain aspects of its operations; an organization that encourages or actively engages in virtual collaboration; or an organization consisting of one or more individuals that does not have an office space and which operates strictly via the internet.  And when I do tell them exactly what I mean by virtual organization, they look at me the way my son did back in 1993, thinking that I must be some kind of nutty professor, or there must be something in the water that I am drinking.  After all, you can just look at the expression on their faces that says  "Hey, I can't see any of these buildings coming down anytime soon or people not getting on the freeway in the morning to get to work."  

However, that being said, it's not all doom and gloom and there is good news to report regarding what kind of progress has been made over the past couple of years toward the gradual evolution of social networks into virtual organizations.

What Has Happened Since?

The social network adoption rate by businesses is close to reaching critical mass, if not oversaturation.   Social networks have been able to penetrate the core and fabric of almost every single business in America and most of the major industrialized countries and, in very short order, the rest of the world will follow.   Here are some of the most striking examples:

TWITTER.   Since that time, Twitter, a relatively unknown company that mostly everyone in the business community thought was a little silly fad, has exploded onto the scene and, to date, has reportedly been able to garner over $160 million in funding from investors and is now a darling of all individuals and businesses alike.  Although Twitter is still struggling with the perennial-monster in the closet-monetization issue that almost all social networks struggle with, it has become a global phenomenon; its course of evolution is still unpredictable; and it is well on its way to one day becoming a serious contender for dominance of the web, standing alongside the current Gang of 3: Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.  Twitter is now a noun and a verb just like Google and, any time a brand reaches that stage, that's a very strong and positive sign of things to come down the road.   But, most importantly, the need to learn how to "virtual organize" this social network is bound to follow once Twitter has figured out a way to monetize it.

NING.  Let's put it this way:  As a lot of us are already aware of, they were so amazingly successful at getting just about every company and individual under the sun to set up a private social network on their platform that they recently gave notice to all their free account members that the free ride is over and to either get ready to pay up or close their accounts and export their data somewhere else.   It's a case of being drunk with success and time to get serious and make money.  I am not sure how well this strategy will work,  especially in light of the fact that there will always be some newcomer and unknown competitor who will use that opportunity to fill the gap by either providing FREE service or even a modest $12 fee for a [whole year] for the first year.  Just imagine getting 1,000,000 new dissatisfied customers, each paying you $12 for the first year to join your social network.  That would be a nice economic boost during these hard times.

FACEBOOK.  Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds since 2008; is now both the official and de facto social network for every single individual and organization and government in the world, regardless of size, type or status.  It is now almost in the league of Microsoft and Google in terms of phenomenal rise; battling for complete supremacy on the web; wants to be the new sheriff in town; and is recognized as an undisputed member of the Web Triumvirate:  Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.    In the case of Facebook, the need to evolve into virtual organizations is being driven by the individuals and organizations themselves instead of a conscious top down strategy by Facebook.  Again, these stakeholders are not aware that they are striving to "virtual organize" in the strict sense of the term although their actions are in fact pointing in that direction.

GOOGLE.    True to form and to its genius, Google is quietly ignoring Orkut and has been steadily inching toward conquering a space that 99.9% of all the major web players in the world have either ignored or are just oblivious to due to either simple ignorance, being too busy fighting too many fires, or just lack of foresight:  the "virtual organization platform" space. You will notice I did NOT say "virtual collaboration platform."  In fact, not even Google executives understand that the Google Apps platform they've been developing over the past few years is a virtual organization platform in progress.  But, nonetheless, regardless of what anybody calls it outside of Google Apps, they are smart enough to know that they are on to something that is worth investing into;  that this is a market that has significant upside potential;  and it is worth capturing and dominating while everybody else is "sleeping at the switch."  

They are smart enough to know that all this interaction via social networks on the net will eventually lead to organizations wanting to not just collaborate but collaborate in some sort of "organized" fashion and they are stepping up to the plate to provide that virtual "organization" platform that people and organizations of all stripes and persuasions, from the smallest to the largest businesses, will eventually need to migrate to [as a matter of necessity], just like being on the web now is no longer a fad but a necessity.  

But the smartest part of their strategy is that this virtual organization platform--Google Apps--is really more like a "hub" that every virtual organization application developer can hook into.  The end result being that this strategy will turn their platform into a sort of de facto "virtual organization operating system" in the cloud.   Just like every application developer has to make sure that their software or application is compatible with the Windows operating system, one day, as sure as I am that the sun will rise in the morning in the east, every virtual "organization" application developer--by the time they do realize what a virtual organization really is--will want to make sure that their application can be plugged into Google Apps.

But there is a more compelling reason why Google executives don't even know that Google Apps--although, in its present state, is a very crude, Stone-Age-type  virtual organization platform--is really a virtual organization platform in the making.  That's because the development of that platform is really being driven by the needs of its users and Google is just doing a MARVELOUS job at tapping into a huge user base, asking for their input on a minute-by-minute, 365 days a year basis, and LISTENING.   Google has been very patient, relentless,  investing capital, trying to develop the perfect platform of the future for businesses even though it's not thinking in terms of "virtual organization."

But what about the users who are driving this trend? Are they aware that they have a need for a virtual "organization" platform?  The answer is also "NO".  They just know what they want to do on the platform based on need, regardless of what label someone wants to attach to it.   It's a classic case of "form follows function" and a natural process of evolution. As the maxim goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

In the meantime, Google is rapidly giving away the free version of Google Apps--as well as charging for the premium version--to every single organization that wants one, whether they know how to use it or not,  or whether they understand the future potential of Google Apps and its significance to their organization.   As well, they are inviting not only their users but also every developer under the sun to innovate and build applications for their platform.   All one needs to do is to take a look at the Google Apps Marketplace to understand what I am talking about.   The end result will be that, one day soon, Google Apps will do for Google what Google Adwords has done to catapult it to its current status as the Lion of the Web.

MICROSOFT.  Although it pains me to say this and in spite of the fact that their operating system will continue to be a cash cow for some years to come, Microsoft seems to be like a punch drunk former champion who still has a bit of spark left in him but just keeps getting beaten up  or taking unnecessary heavy blows by those up-and-coming young studs with rock solid muscles ready to make a name for themselves.   Yes, I am talking about Google, Facebook  and others to come.

Microsoft doesn't really seem to know where it wants to go in the social networking world.  They've basically walked away from the browser market--the doorway to social networks--that they had dominated for so long and just don't seem to "really get it" when it comes to social networks.    Does anyone know that Microsoft has a social network called Windows Live which claims to have 500 million users?  I think it's more like 500,000 users.   Does anyone know that Microsoft entered the mobile social networking world in a big way in May 2010 with the launch of Kin  in partnership with Verizon Wireless?   But the real questions are: "Are they just reacting to Apple and Google's entry in that space and feel that there is room for one more player?" and "How long will they be in that line of business?"  I guess only time can tell.

But what amazes me the most is that they have pretty much walked away from the front end stuff.  I don't mean the regular front end stuff.  I am talking about what promises to be "the sexiest front end stuff of all"The Virtual Organization Platform.   Microsoft Office Live, their version of a web collaboration application,  does not even come close to the functionality you find in Google Apps,  and seems more and more like an afterthought,  with no real push behind that effort.   They have ceded that ground to Google and, one day, a great number of historians and I will write about how Microsoft ignored a number of overtures made to them by Virtual Organization Management Institute (VOMI)  in order to assist in the development of a robust Virtual Organization Platform and how they screwed up big time.   As a result, we at VOMI have reluctantly decided to build our own Virtual Organization Platform.  Just as some really smart Yahoo executive walked away from an opportunity to buy Google.  Just as another really smart IBM executive walked away from Microsoft. I am amazed at the fact that they don't have a clue as to what a "virtual organization" is even though it's standing right there in front of their noses, staring at them,  and saying "Hey, look at this golden opportunity."

Whatever happened to that old MSN search engine?  They abandoned that business and now they are trying to get back into the game with the new Bing.com search engine.  By the way, they insist it's a "decision" engine and not a search engine.  Does the average person really understand the difference or care to do so?

Microsoft has become another IBM and just can't seem to escape from the mindset that normally grips these huge companies and turns them into big, huge, and bloated supertankers.   Do you know that, in this day and age, when you need to find someone to talk to at Microsoft or send them something, they will tell you to SNAIL MAIL your information to them and won't even give you a name and email address?

In fairness, I need to tell you about some of the positive things that Microsoft has done and some of the wonderful and exciting back end stuff that Microsoft is doing that will help to accelerate the evolution of social networks into virtual organizations.  The new MSN is a digital publishing portal, and very nice, I might add.   They have made an outstanding  and serious push and huge investments in the virtualization technology field--the back end stuff--and I commend them for this outstanding move and wish them much success.  How many people know they are in the Cloud business with Live Services? Another back end stuff and another outstanding move.  Why is that an outstanding move?  That's because this is where the entire virtual organization world will reside in the not too distant future.

In conclusion, when it comes to Microsoft, it's a mixed bag of results.   They are working hard on the back end stuff that will fuel the future virtual organization world and,  therefore, it is a good step in the right "virtual organization world" direction.

MYSPACE.  Although MySpace does not belong in the category of social networks that are evolving into virtual organizations, I would be remiss if I didn't mention them in light of the huge influence they had on popularizing the social network.  In any case, back in 2008, MySpace was in a state of spiral decline and, sadly, has now become completely irrelevant.   Its new CEO, Jason Hirchhorn,  has been given a formidable task of turning around MySpace and to bring it back from the abyss to its glory days of yesteryear, a task akin to the miracle of Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead or the 12 Herculean Tasks.  Being a forever optimist, I'll stick to my "never say never" philosophy, however, that being said, seeing is believing.   Jason needs to be knocking real hard on the virtual doors of Virtual Organization Management Institute because we know exactly what they need to do to turn things around.

VAI GLOBAL.   Wait just a minute, who the hell is that and what are they doing on this list?  I know you've never heard of them and until recently I didn't either and that's for a good reason: they haven't even launched the company yet.  As of April 23, 2010, it's just a web site I wouldn't even call in alpha mode because you can't even sign up for an account and you can't even navigate through it to see its features.   So why am I even mentioning a complete unknown that is not even in alpha mode?    Well, recently I was contacted by the founder and CEO of VAI Global, Dr. Don Oparah, because he wanted to give me a presentation on the inner workings of his soon-to-be-launched social network; wanted to discuss how his organization could partner with Virtual Organization Management Institute; and was hoping that perhaps our organization could be interested in using his platform.   I normally ignore most of these inquiries, not because they have no merit but because time is something that we're extremely in short supply of since we're in constant startup mode.  Since he was persistent, I agreed to meet with him knowing full well it would most likely be a waste of time.   After all, how different could his social network be? My attitude was, you've seen one, you've seen them all.

Well, I am glad I did for the following reason:  When you compare VAI Global with all the other social networks out there, there was indeed a palpable difference between theirs and every other social network out there.  In fact, I call VAI Global "a visually-oriented, next generation social network" that can turn into a formidable competitor to Facebook and LinkedIn if they are able to get some serious investors behind them.   Don't laugh, because  in 2004 I am sure that MySpace would have scoffed at the notion that,  in the space of a few years, a little unknown like Facebook would one day beat the pants out of them and make them completely irrelevant within less than 6 years.   Based on what I've seen, VAI Global, powered by introNetworks, is a good example of the    "Accelerating Innovation" concept.    It has taken what everyone else out there has done or attempted to do and made it better.  I was so impressed by Don's presentation that I have recommended to him that he schedules a set time on a daily basis to give that same presentation to the public at large.   Whether you are an individual, small to large business, an executive recruiter or a global executive search firm,  an online university, an investor, or just a corporate executive who wants to organize your social network in a "visual way" and in a seamless fashion, you can stop shopping around.   For what VAI Global provides in an AD-FREE environment, the $10 per month to setup an account is not only a reasonable price but a real bargain.   I am not sure if they also charge per user per account, in which case I believe that would be a big mistake.    By the way, I haven't been paid for this mention and nor am I affiliated in any way, shape or form with VAI Global.  When they finally open up their doors and VOMI gets an opportunity to use their service, I'll come up with a follow-up recommendation based on actual experience and then decide whether I want to partner with their organization.

In Conclusion

The huge trend by businesses to formally adopt social social networks is evidence that we are heading in the right direction and that the long and inexorable march of social networks toward evolving into virtual organizations is right on track and on schedule.  As well, the rapid spread of mobile social networking is helping to accelerate that trend and close the gap that exists in emerging countries and other remote corners of the world.     Of course, with me being such a virtual organization fanatic, I would love for everyone to pick up the pace a bit because my job is to carry the Luminous Light of Virtual Organization Management Institute to every corner of the globe.






About Author:   Pierre Coupet, CEO & Q of Virtual Organization Management is the founder of Virtual Organization Management Institute (VOMI), VOMI Virtual Organization Academy, and Virtual Organization Recruiter:: founder of the modern virtual organization management and virtual organization recruitment disciplines pioneered since 1997:: founder of League of Extraordinary Virtual Organization Executives:: and Architect of THE NEW VIRTUAL ORGANIZATION WORLD Collection. Contact directly at chairman@virtualorganizationinstitute.com; or via CHAT.

Stock Photo: courtesy of Pixabay

Copyright 2007-2016.  Pierre Coupet.  VOMI. Virtual Organization Management Institute. VOMI Virtual Organization Academy.  Virtual Organization Recruiter.  All rights reserved.  Cannot be reproduced without permission.

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