Last week, we took a look at Unthink, which is looking to establish itself as an alternative social network to Facebook.
As more people become concerned about Facebook’s dominance and approach to privacy, Unthink is looking to establish a foothold by giving users control over their profiles and all their information. So far, it has attracted more than 100,000 registered members.
It is an encouraging start but it is difficult to say whether people are simply curious about Unthink or seriously interested in the idea of a new social networking service.
As much as people may like to complain about Facebook, you’re not seeing a wave of defections to the revamped MySpace or startups such as Diaspora. Instead, most people are sticking with Facebook because, after all, their friends and family are there.
So what would it take for a new social networking service to catch fire? Is it possible for a new player to wiggle its way into the top tier along with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+? (Note: For the sake of argument, I don’t consider Google+ a new social player given Google’s search dominance.)
One of the challenges facing a social startup is it has to have more than just more features than the incumbents. A good example is Pownce, which had more bells and whistles than Twitter but, for whatever, reason didn’t have Twitter’s buzz or cache. As a result, Pownce disappeared into the bowels of TypePad.
To capture enough users to become an established player, a social startup needs to have a service that’s user-friendly with almost no learning curve or “grit”, and strikes people as cool and happening. It would also help to have a few high-profile mavens such as Robert Scoble and Walt Mossberg embrace it in a major way.
Even this may not be enough to get a social start-up over the hump. The gap from the bleed-edge/leading-edge to mass adoption is huge. As much as online users are finicky and not terribly loyal, many social media users are creatures of habit. Once they establish a presence, build a community and integrate a social media service into their personal and/or professional lives, it’s hard to leave.
For a new social media service to close the gap, it needs a combination of great timing, luck, a service that delights for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t necessarily have to been chock-a-block with features but it just needs to do a few things really well with perhaps a few interesting wrinkles.
In many respects, we’re talking about a David vs. Goliath world in which startups battle against large and well-entrenched market leaders. It’s not an impossible task but it would take a lot of things to unfold in the right way to materialize.
What do you think? What would it take for a startup to become a top-tier social networking player?