Why Most (Federated) Social Networks Fail (Updated)

This was originally posted upon Google+ and has been reposted (with a minor update) here.

Whenever Twitter or Facebook enrage the digerati there are massive calls for alternative social networks that embrace openness, decentralization, open source code and world peace.

Not surprisingly most of these “open” social networks fail to gain traction and either remain a spectacle amongst the geeks or quietly go extinct, only to be replaced (ironically) by centralized social networks.

While much text has been violently typed as to why they fail, here are my brief, biased and unscientific observations as to why they fail.

Not unique: Most social networks (both federated and non-federated) die here. They are ultimately just another clone, offering no major features to distinguish themselves.

Example: When Dispora launched as the Facebook alternative it was just that–a Facebook alternative. Contrast that with Google+ whose distinguishing features is group video chats (aka Hangouts).

Spamicide: Once a federated social network has established it’s niche, something amazing happens. Spammers take notice and flood the gates. Multiply that across numerous servers and you then realize why the blogosphere (the closest thing to a true federated social network) abandoned pinging eons ago.

Battling the spam bots is similar to the war on drugs–it never ends and demands more time, resources and (ultimately) money than what anyone anticipates.

Once spammers take over, users flock away leaving the once promising social network nothing more than an SEO ooze for Google to ignore.

Example: Identi.ca gained a lot of traction in the early days. Before the dark times. Before the rise of the spampire. Now it’s being used mainly by über geeks and aggressive marketers.

Update: Identi.ca is relaunching as Pump.io apparently. Same goal, different software.

No money, More problems: Putting food on the table is important. So is keeping the servers powered. All of that requires money.

Traditional social networks pay the bills via investor funding, selling premium features, or harassing users with annoying ads.

Most federated social networks lack access to deep pockets, and harassing users with ads is a great way to inspire mass adoption of ad blockers.

Unless a feasible business plan is developed, many federated social networks end up being abandoned by their founders (due to more promising distractions).

.tLD Fail: If you do not know what .tLD stands for then count your blessings as you are one of the normal human beings who wander planet earth.

.tLD stands for Top Level Domain, and if your federated social network is unable to secure a .com, .net or (for non profits) .org domain then it’s doomed from the start.

Using domain hacks may be cute but ultimately the masses will gravitate towards .com addresses as (for better or worse) they are a symbol of trust.

Example: Facebook, Twitter, etcetera are using .com while Federated alternative services like Tent and Identica use .io or .ca (which tells you all you need to know about the future audience).

Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers!: Last but not least federated social networks fail to attract quality developers early on which can make or break a social service.

By quality developers I mean geeks with the skills to creating amazing apps (via mobile, web or console) that people crave to use more than an addict craves their drug of choice.

Example: App.net heavily courted developers from the beginning who are creating amazing apps for the service across numerous platforms. Tent.io apps are currently on the endangered species list.

CONCLUSION: Hopefully someone can prove me wrong and I would be delighted if a federated social network became powerful enough to dethrone the top contenders.

Although I do hope that someone can create a decent federated social network, outside of WordPress I’m not betting on seeing one within the next decade.

Image Credit:Federated Social Web Summit