The Impact of Social Networking API’s

I just came across an interesting article in BusinessWeek titled “Social-Networking Sites Open Up” that I thought I’d share my thoughts on. Many web 2.0 companies, which certainly include the social networking category, have realized the power of API’s — the largest being that there is no way a young company can develop all the features that their users want in a reasonable time period. The solution — let the developer community build those features in the fraction of the time it would take to build internally.

API’s seem to be following the Google model — distibute your content in as many places as possible to get your brand out there. Except Google is a little different in that they actually monetize their content straight from other sites, whereas the majority of companies that develop API’s do so for two primary reasons — branding to a larger audience and links (& traffic) back to their site.

Here’s an interesting quote:

After social network Friendster opened up its proprietary software to a select dozen or so developers six months ago, the number of unique visitors rose by 17.6%, to 18.8 million, in December, 2006. “This is our biggest [month-over-month] growth since launch,” says Jeff Roberto, marketing director at Friendster. Now, for example, Friendster users can create slide shows of photos on Slide.com and then post them directly onto the social-networking site.

Makes me wonder — will API’s have a massive effect on social networking traffic and adoption in the long term? Personally, I have yet to see anything earth-shattering developed using an API from a social networking site, but maybe that’s just because developers have not had enough time to build them yet.

So, assuming everyone releases API’s, what developer (or group of devs) will build the 1st social network that combines Myspace, Facebook, Friendster, and LinkedIn? Whoever it is will certainly become a household name in the developer community by effectively merging contacts and communication across social networks.

Who’s going to end up on top in the battle for the top spot in the social networking space? Will myspace continue to dominate? Or will Facebook come out of the woodwork to lead the charge? Or, will a newer, “hipper,” network catch the imagination of today’s youth to become a force? I think it’s still too early to tell who will succeed. Myspace could easily fall as fast as it rose. The dominoe effect can happen — speaking of that, I actually noticed one of my “Top 8” friends deleted their profile today (it’s already started??). And lastly, will API’s be a part of what makes a site successful in the long term?

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