Monday, March 3, 2008

Making money off Social Networks

On Tuesday, February 19th I attended the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab event on Shaking the Money Tree of Multi-Platform Social Networks. Like the one on Green Tech for the consumer market in January, this one was also a sold out event. However, the similarity ends there, since they are two completely different markets. The panel was moderated by Jeremiah Owyang, a Senior Analyst at Forrester and consisted of panelists from two startups Social Media and Rock You and from more established players Bebo and Google, with Kevin Gullicksen from Morgenthaler Ventures giving the VC perspective. Jeremiah gives a nice summary of the event on his most excellent blog, with links to notes from others. As the post states, it was a most excellent event.

Jeremiah's introductory slides classifying the online community and showing the demographics of the creators versus spectators were very interesting. For those interested he has his slides posted on his blog. It would be pointless to reiterate the summary which Jeremiah and others have covered earlier. But, the two things which stood out to me were 1) the proliferation of competitors, perhaps due to the low barrier to entry and 2) the difficulty of monetizing the social networks in spite of a plethora of apps and widgets on sites like Facebook and others. Social Media did point to several of their app developers making some money, but clearly scaling revenue seems to be an issue at this point.

However, what was most striking was the energy and exuberance of the community. Its almost as if they did not care whether they made money as long as they had fun creating the networks and the applications. Perhaps that was the source of most of these networks and the making money part came as an afterthought. It will be most interesting to see which of these networks turn out to be profitable and why.


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