2009 was a unique year in the fledgling history of social media, in that it was a year that contained no new “Big Thing”. The year obviously belonged to Twitter, but Twitter itself really broke into the mainstream at the end of 2008. There were a number of things launched that received a lot of attention amongst the digerati which may very well go on to become “Big Things” – Google Wave for example – but nothing that created the sort of mainstream attention that Facebook, or Twitter, or even Second Life did when they first broke.
This is a good thing. All of the “Big Things” of the past have been essentially tools and what this may signify is that we reached a point where we have actually got enough tools for the time being. And hopefully this will encourage us instead to focus on working out how to use the tools to start building things. Clearly there will be new tools to come, but if you think about it, the tools we have cover most of the bases – we have blogging software for creating publication platforms, we have content distribution and sharing infrastructures for video, audio, images and ppt even. We have networking infrastructures for our social and professional activities and we have tools that allow us to build our own networks and communities. And with Twitter we have a sort of medium (not media) that surrounds and nurtures all of it. The only major bit missing is a better way to integrate all the various tools and infrastructures – either through connection pieces or through the creation of “The Mythical One Place” I have written about previously.
What I therefore think we will see this year is an acceleration in forms of behaviour and new ways of doing things that are not dependant on, or generated by, any one particular tool, but use all the tools to start to unlock the bigger picture opportunities that social media represents. In particular I think 2010 will be the year of community as people that have become familiar with facebook and LinkedIn and the behaviours associated with them start to apply this knowledge to the creation of their own much more specialised and bespoke networks, using tools such as Ning.
I have always been a fan of Ning from the moment of its inception and have used its growth as an index of the extent of digital community formation. Given that digital communities are going to be the building blocks of what will pass for the media in the future, studying their development is important. Over the years I have had to defend my support of Ning in the face of people championing expensive “enterpise solution” wikis and other forms of white label networking platfroms. But Ning has prevailed and I felt vindicated when I recently discovered that the US State Department had set up a network for participants in its exchange programmes and selected Ning as the platform after a comprehensive review of all the paid-for alternatives.
So 2010 is the year when I would definitely keep an eye on Ning – or more specifically the growth of communities based around tools such as Ning – and also watch-out for emerging trends in new forms of action and organisation that start to exploit the tools we already have. And maybe, just maybe, 2010 will be the year when my “Mythical One Place” finally arrives.