In a September article from Wired entitled “Beware These Six Lamest Social Networks“, Matthew Honan lists some of his least favourite social networking services (SNSs). These happen to be niche SNSs, and although he sees little reason for their existence, I would strongly disagree. As long as a niche SNS or community site provides regularly updated content to a steady or growing set of users, there is no reason that such sites should not persist or flourish on the Web.
As Honan himself has some pretty niche interests, I am at a loss to understand why he would ‘diss’ these others so. Honan winds up the article by saying: “It’s enough to make you boycott community sites entirely. Of course, there’s probably a social network for that, too.” Maybe he should visit this site. Not everyone loves Facebook and MySpace you know, and in fact, niche SNSs can provide a breath of fresh air when you want to escape from the big overcrowded SNS cities.
As pointed out by Paul Gibler in his article “The Expanding World of Social Networking“, it is the fine-grained and targeted communities such as CafeMom, BOOMj and PEERtrainer that are experiencing recent growth. Niche SNSs have been set up to cater for age demographics (e.g., Multiply for seniors), home countries (SiliconIndia), gender (MothersClick for moms), occupations (The Financial Executives Networking Group) and interests (StreetCred for hip-hop). Gibler says: “If you have a clearly defined and unserved target market, there could be a place for a niche SNS to connect and serve your audience.” And even if your target users are already using a large SNS, then a niche group can be housed therein.
So in conclusion, a lot of niche SNSs already exist, and if the niche site is more relevant and kept updated for its users, it will survive. Mark O’Neill sums it up nicely (in his post referencing a recent presentation I gave): “[…] by organizing networks centrifugally around objects, social networking sites have meaning, even when they do not have 200 milllion users and even when they are centered around minority interests (like Thomas Kinkade paintings!). The point is that they are centered on objects which are in common.”