Semantic Social Media: The Future of Social Networking? A Special Podcast

The race to be the social network seems like it’s been over for at least 6 months. Facebook has trumped MySpace, and MySpace is busy (finally) trying to refocus both their business model and what they offer users and brands.

Beyond the race for number 1, dozens of smaller social networks (such as CafeMom, Gather, LinkedIn, TeamSugar and more) work to differentiate themselves by either focusing on a particular target audience (i.e., moms) or specific functionality (i.e., business networking).

That’s still just the tip of the iceberg. There are more than 1,000,000 social networks hosted on Ning alone—the majority of which are useless, abandoned, or should be abandoned.

Does this mean there’s no more room for social networks in 2009 and beyond? Surprisingly, the answer may be “no” for those who focus on semantic social media.

Enter Semantic Social Networks

While most social networks are built around relationships, semantic social networks are built around a particular topic. One good example of this is a new network, from the publisher of Nature, called Scitable.

Scitable focuses on pulling together undergrads, postgrads and university faculty around specific scientific topics, with the initial emphasis on genetics. In relatively short order, the site has attracted a few hundred thousand users—an amazing number given how specific (and cerebral) the topic matter is.

In this podcast, I talked to Nature Education’s Publishing Director Vikram Savkar. Vikram does an outstanding job explaining the concept of semantic social media and how to build a social network around a topic. 

Special Podcast with Jim Tobin: Semantic Social Media by ignitesocialmedia

Networks Require Lots of Nurturing

The success of Scitable struck me as a replicable model for others interested in building communities around topics. You should note, however, the significant investment Nature has made in this community. Besides the platform construction costs, Nature has “between 10 and 40 people” staffing the site in some capacity. We’re way passed the “build it and they will come” model of social network building and the technology is no longer the big challenge. Rather it’s the marketing, initial content creation and fostering the initial dialogue that takes most of the effort.

What do you think? Are you thinking about building a community like Scitable? If so, what’s your biggest roadblock?

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  • ronaldredito
    Posted at 04:19h, 22 August

    Im not into semantic social networks yet. I would love to create one. That would be targeted traffic for the owner.

  • MultiB
    Posted at 14:25h, 09 September

    I believe if you want to compete with the top social networks, you need to find out what they have in common, and then do something different. Most of these sites, if you take away blogs, messaging sytems, and apps, would not exist. I think this is because they are not focused on any type of goal or concept. If your site has a concept or goal, it may work. Maybe more so if it is found all over the world. Let’s take competition for example, that is a worldwide concept, and the idea alone attracts interest. Now throw in social interaction and taking photos. Combine all those ideas and you have, a social interaction competition with an overall goal of linking the world together through the use of photos. Its simple really, take a photo with two people (one on the left, one on the right) now take another photo, this the person who was on the right is now on the left, and a new person is on the right. Keep this process going, put all the photos together, and it turns into a photo chain where each subsequent photo has a common person in it. In this example, each letter will represent people, and the parenthesis will represent the photo: (A & B)(B & C)(C & D)(D & E)(E & F) and so on. By creating this concept, you create competition as to which chain will reach certian lengths first, and also the quickest. If you would like to see an example of what a real chain looks like, will always show the longest chain on the site. The site is still in beta and looking for users to try it out. I feel this will be the next big step in social networking.


  • merlinnz
    Posted at 03:29h, 15 October

    Semantic social network — what a great idea, but who will provide the content and maintain it — will it be left to the big players like Nature? And what will be their income stream?

  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 19:17h, 15 October

    Absolutely right Merlin… It’s very interesting, but not easy to get going. I suspect it will be bigger players who can afford the budget mixed in with some brilliant niche “hobbyists”, if you will, that will pull up a great network based on their knowledge and passion.

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