The recent launch of a new "Sustainable Living Forum Community" called GreenSmart made me realize just how out of touch green folks can be. First off its a forum ... remember those things back in the day (like 10 years ago) long before the advent of Web 2.0 and all its social networking glory? Forums were the grandparents of the social networking movement and while incredibly useful in the early days of online community building, are a thing of ancient web history. Wikis, social networks behemoths like Facebook, and open content management systems like Wordpress have taken over, making the forum obsolete.
But the GreenSmart launch has me pondering a bigger question ... of obsolescence. Just how many more green social networks can the internet handle? And more importantly, will any of them survive at all? In a year of dramatically shrinking marketing budgets, online ad spend is going to get less and less risky, and advertisers will be sure to stick with tried and true web destinations that have a defined and loyal audience. This will make niche social networks, especially those in the toddler phase, unlikely recipients of real money.
Care 2 was the original green social network and, as first mover, has managed to retain a decent amount of traffic. In 2006 there was Zaadz (which had a spiritual bent) and sold to Gaiam, and then SustainLane which gave user-generated product ratings. Freecycle a network of recyclers came along and then EVO, a network for green shopping. By the first quarter of 2008 there were literally dozens of stand-alone green network startups, some of them with a more generic "green lifestyle" bent, others with an Al Gore-inspired climate focus. You can read about the top contenders on Earth2Tech's Top 10.
But they kept on coming ... WorldCoolers, DoTheRightThing, Greenwalla, Greenopolis, AliveWorld, CreativeCitizen and PowerVote. Even big companies like Interface and Lexus created micro-sites for social networking. Then a few more that attempted to differentiate by being, well, odd ... ZorkPlanet (which looks like a kid's site, but all the profiles seem to be adults) and AmIGreenOrNot, which centers its brand around a question that no one really wants to know the answer to.
Certainly social networks have been popping up in other niche verticals, like sports fans or gamers, but no genre has matched the relentless, blinded-by-green furvor of the green space. Is it a lack of understanding about social networks? That Facebook, Myspace, Ning, and ethnic community sites like Hi5 and MiGente, have now established themselves as giants among a field of tiny players, and much like AOL, Yahoo and Gmail did with other email companies back in the late '90s, are about to stomp out their myriad competitors.
I think that's part of it. Creating a social network seemed easy enough, and this perhaps blinded the minions of young CEO's from asking a much larger and more important question ... why would anyone want to silo their social networks?
As a busy web user, I don't want to have to jump from one niche site to another — from green to music, to political to movies. I want it all in one place, and this is just what Facebook, and to a lesser extent Myspace, provides. I can be a member of many different groups within my one single social network. If I were CEO of these green networks, I would figure out a way to ride on the backs of the great giants, by creating innovative and useful applications within the Facebook and Myspace platforms.
The other big question is that of "tangibility." How does this online experience add real and tangible value to my life?
Whenever I sign up for anything now, I ask ... "Is this just going to clutter my head with more digital junk or can it enrich my real-world life in some way." Sites that offer monetary or other rewards, help me to simplify my life or engage with a cool community in the creation of beautiful physical things (like the brilliant Etsy, Threadbanger, and DeviantArt networks), these sites provide clues to help struggling social networks be relevant (and competitive) in what I'm now calling the coming 'Age of Tangibility' — an age which reacts to the deluge of all that is Web 2.0, by offering real, life-enriching experiences.