06:26 PM

3.5.07 The new power in social nets: Cisco?

So this is odd. Last month Cisco bought Five Across, not a company that springs to most people's minds when you think social networking. (I profiled Five Across' previous incarnation, Bubbler, in 2005.)

This week Cisco will announce its acquiring the technology infrastructure behind Tribe.net, a social networking pioneer that has largely retrenched to the Burning Man crowd, the NY Times reports.

What's going on? The Times' Brad Stone says:

The deal[s] will give Cisco the technology to help large corporate clients create services resembling MySpace or YouTube to bring their customers together online. And that ambition highlights a significant shift in the way companies and entrepreneurs are thinking about social networks.

And from there Stone devines a trend. MySpace and Facebook were great, awesome, as far as they went but now they are hitting a wall. The future of social networks will be community-based. Of course, the large social networks naturally splintered up into lots of little communities and advertising areas, etc.

But with more focus, something better can result, Ning cofounder Marc Andreessen says.

“The existing social networks are fantastic but they put users in a straitjacket,” said Mr. Andreessen, who this week reintroduced Ning, his third start-up, after a limited introduction last year. “They are restrictive about what you can and can’t do, and they were not built to be flexible. They do not let people build and design their own worlds, which is the nature of what people want to do online.”

So will Cisco be able to become the social networking vendor for enterprises? Fat chance, says Andreessen.

“The idea that Cisco is going to be a force in social networking is about as plausible as Ning being a force in optical switches,” he said.

So what about Tribe.net? Sources say that Cisco is acquiring the company's technology and Tribe.net continues as a site.

The article also mentions that startups in the networking space face a huge struggle because once people have entered their data and collected their friends and built their connections, why would they switch? The proposed fix for that is OpenID, a mechanism to make this identity information transportable.

Marc Canter, a former Tribe.net consultant who has created his own social networking firm, People Aggregator, was an early supporter of OpenID. “Humans are migratory beasts, and we do not want to re-enter our data every time we join a new site,” he said. “Users own their data and should be able to move it around freely.”