There’s been some discussion recently in the blogosphere about how the business of social software is becoming more and more of a winner-takes-all proposition. It’s at least partially true as everyone wants to be where their friends are and social software products are not perfectly replaceable like Coke and Pepsi. The cost of switching from a Facebook to a Bebo is much higher than simply changing your mind at a vending machine. You grow a social network on one platform over the course of months and years, and it can be a daunting task to embark on a wholesale switch.
Surely this is why Facebook blocks the other players from accessing their API, including Google. The resultant portability of data would make the barrier to switching infinitely less daunting. Thus it seems that there can be only one key player in each major social market, to every other competitors’ detraction.
But does this issue extend to niche social software offerings? At first it might seem true. In the location-based services arena, for instance, it may seem that there can be only one Loopt, or Whrrl, or BrightKite for the same reasons that Facebook is so far ahead of all other players in the broader consumer social sphere. But technologies like OpenSocial, Facebook Connect, Google Friend Connect, MySpaceID, OpenID and oAuth mean that this does not have to be the case. In fact, it is hardly a necessity to even build social features into your products anymore when your products can piggy-back on the platforms of the existing major networks. Thus it seems likely that the winners in the niche market spaces will be ones that eschew building their own propriety networks in favour of augmenting existing networks. If you can bring your service to existing networks rather than having to build your own network then you overcome one of the great barriers to user adoption of social apps: building a trusted network of friends and contacts within the system.