Why Social Networks Fail

By Jenna Lebel Google Wave, one of the most hyped products of 2009, is no longer. This is just one of Google’s long line of attempts in the social space (many think Google Buzz has failed already). While some, including Mashable’s own Pete Cashmore, feel that Google’s most recent failed attempt means the search giant is no real player in the social media space, Google promises they are working on a different approach to enter the space.

Their new approach will likely take key learnings from their past failed attempts. But what about others who have tried to enter the space and have seen the same fate? Here we outline why some networks fail (Google—take note!).

Lack of New Offering

Some social networking sites are flawed from the beginning because they don’t offer anything that can’t be found elsewhere. Former niche networks like VitalSkate offered users very little that they couldn’t do on mainstream sites which made it difficult for them to get users to join, ultimately leading to its demise.

Ease of Use

Overcomplicating things can also lead to a network’s demise. One of Facebook’s strong points is its user-friendly interface. Facebook’s strength was Google Wave’s weakness. Google Wave was intended to be a real-time communication tool that combined elements of instant messaging, e-mail and collaboration software. As CNN points out, mastering the Wave was “the web equivalent of programming your VCR.” Because of the complexity of the platform, few users took the time to understand it which made mainstream adoption nearly impossible.

Purpose for Existing

iYomu was a network designed for older adults that launched in August 2007. The New Zealand based startup lived for less than a year before failing. Most critics blame the failure on the lack of a clear purpose. The site restricted membership to users 18 and over, yet claimed to be a site for “older adults to communicate.”

Selling to Large Parent Company

This is not the case for every social networking startup, but more often than not startups who sell to bigger companies inevitably suffer or fail. Take Bebo for example. Bebo was an early pioneer in the social space capitalizing on a gap in the social networking market. That is, until AOL bought Bebo in 2008 for $850 million. Buried within the Time Warner empire, Bebo didn’t stand a chance. Starved of investment, resources and time, Bebo had no opportunity to reinvent itself as the landscape changed. Another example is Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley’s first venture, Dodgeball. His first experiment into the location-based networking category, Dodgeball was founded in 2000 and acquired by Google in 2005. Crowley left Google and Dodgeball, describing his experience there as “incredibly frustrating”. Crowley went on to create the leader in the space, Foursquare, while Google killed Dodgeball in 2009.

Why do you think some networks stick and others don’t? Share in the comments section below!