Had a great lunch with two really smart folks – the following was asked, and it rattled a theme around my head.

What if you had to prove (through actions) that you had already provided real value to someone, before you could “friend” them?   What would a social network look like if  every one of your “friends” was guaranteed to have listened to your advice, in a meaningful way, at least once in the past?

Social Networks evolve in a way that demonstrates how people use different tools for interacting:

  1. with their closest friends (email/sms/fbmsg for me)
  2. with their core audience (RSS/4sq for me)
  3. with their broader but still relevant audience (RSS/Twitter/FB for me)
  4. with the people they want to denote social relationships with (LinkedIn and Facebook for me).

What tends to happen with successful social networks is that they have a core value to the first user and some incentives to connect with friends (LinkedIn is better than traditional resumes and you look more valuable with better social proof).

But, after reaching a core network size where the product is optimized for relevant information or connections, the incentive continues to push growth; the network starts to signal relationships over information and becomes less relevant.  That’s happened to LinkedIn and to Facebook.

Facebook’s investing in games (and other platform apps), to maintain the users attention and keep them motivated in the quest for ultimate “connection with everything.”  As a result, Facebook’s got a broad ownership of your entire social graph (how you connect broadly to companies, products, people) — it’s probably going to win there.

So, if you want to build a social entity, don’t compete on the broader data play — ask yourself what niche information can you get detail and clarity on that either users or marketers care about?

Back to the original question — I’d find a network that shared the people that are influenced by the people I influence (Think LinkedIn, back when you only had 150 connections).  I could understand whom you actually have a good relationship with, so that I could ask for good quality introductions from you, or discuss relevant people with you.

There are a lot of other niche plays available to us out there. That’s where the hustlers should focus right now.