The Social (Networking) Imperative

kids with cell phonesAn article in the July 2, 2007 BusinessWeek entitled “Children of teh Web” caught my eye this weekend.  The article focused on how the swelling ranks of digital youth worldwide – the young, savvy generation that grew up with the Internet is forcing businesses to rethink the way they market their products and services.  In particular, it highlighted the way increasingly global networks that are forming among this demographic. 

They are used to participating in social networks that may include members from other countries and cultures.  The result isn’t the Americanization of world culture we witnessed in the 1980’s, but rather a mixing of cultures.  New trends can emerge anywhere and spread around the globe rapidly.  As author Steve Hamm writes, “Addressing this vast market of globally dispersed young people will force companies to become new kinds of multinaionals – plugged into the digital grid and quick to respond to shifts in demand that begin as tremors halfway around the world.”  This is clearly a phenomenon to which publishers and booksellers need to pay attention.  Smart publishers will redesign their book publishing models accordingly. 

social networkThe biggest social networking site is Myspace, followed by Facebook.  But interestingly, not all the social networking action on MySpace takes place among youth.  In fact,  comScore Media Metrix reported in late 2006 that – in the U.S. – half of the site’s users are 35 or older.  Only 30 percent are under 25  and teens under 18 make up only 12 percent.  The 35-54 group represents 41 percent.  And books are doing well on MySpace – there are currently 4,420 pages devoted to books. 

If MySpace and Facebook don’t meet your needs, you can build your own social networking site.  Ning, a Silicon valley based startup, provides tools that allow you to construct your social network site.  Currently, Ning powers over 66,000 social networks.  A quick survey of Ning revealed 355 networks tagged “books.” These ranged from author or title focused networks, to more general book lover networks.

Social networking appears to be establishing itself as a new way to form relationships and share experiences.  While it’s appeal has spread beyond the youth demographic, this group will no doubt pioneer the artistic mashups that will enrich and transfuse our culture, including our literature.

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