As social networking online becomes more and more lucrative, more and more services are appearing hoping to capture your social life. As time passed, two trends have appeared.
What are they, and what’s the difference?
Type 1: Closed-Model Network
It is Closed-Model networks that represent the stereotypical “social network”. MySpace was one. Facebook is one. Google+ is one. With these networks, users are asked to sign up and coexist within the network, finding their social tools and activity all in one central place.
On Facebook, for instance, I can see what others are talking about, photographing and sharing, all from Facebook.com. Those thoughts and photos live on Facebook’s servers, and I can comment on that data on the service.
I, in using Facebook, build a walled garden around my social life, forming a single, easy to use ecosystem to share with others in the garden.
Type 2: Open-Model Network
The Open-Model is a newer approach that is really starting to catch on in some circles. The philosophy here is that each network works with those around it. Twitter is one such example. I can tweet my thoughts and interests throughout each day, and they live on Twitter’s servers. I can share a photo on Twitter with my tweeps from Instagram, tell them about the great meal I’m having on Gowalla and save an awesome article on ZooTool. Each of those tools are designed to answer a single social question. They operate independently of one another, and continue to operate irrespective of the fate of the others.
Which is Better?
They are both entirely different approaches to social networking. They both have different pros and cons.
An Open-Model network is a much easier network to create. Your network can join the fray of many other coexisting services and contribute what it has to contribute without requiring critical mass to succeed.
The downside to the Open-Model approach is that you never really lock in your users, leaving them free to come and go as they please, with nothing to lose. You’re part of a bigger picture. As a result, a successful Open-Model network is unlikely to have the same amount of success with ads, for instance.
A successful Closed-Model network doesn’t have that problem. When users are in a Closed-Model network, they have to exist within that walled garden. Everything (or the vast majority of tools) exists in there. Google+ provides a Stream, a Photo sharing service and a chat service all from one place, for instance. It also deeply integrates with other Google products.
The downside to the Closed-Model approach is that you need to reach critical mass with your target audience before you can truly monetize the service. If all of your friends use Facebook, for instance, then not many people want to use MySpace for the exact same feature set. Facebook gets to eat all the pie.
As you can see, these two very different models take very different approaches. It’s a choice between eating all the pie and sharing pie with others. There will undoubtedly be more Open-Model networks to come and go, supporting the open social web. The war between Closed-Model services will also undoubtedly continue, each fighting for the throne of another, to be “that social network” you call home.