Is the Social Network Bubble About to Burst?

It seems like once a month I’m invited to a hip, new social network, poised as the anti-Facebook. Out of curiosity, I tend to join (ironically, about half the time, logging in through Facebook Connect). Each one of these networks has its own niche. There’s Ping for music, Path for photos and Quora for questions. But what additional value does each of these networks bring? When will the fragmentation become so great that the market begins to reject the idea of new social networks?

Let’s explore three key ingredients to the success of a social network:

  • Social Glue – A network has to have commonality among its users, a unique draw to engage its audience coming back for more. This is actually what many of the niche social networks are attempting to create. Facebook’s draw, on the other hand, is derived from ubiquity.
  • Ease of Use – I’ll gloss over this one because I’ve rarely come across a social network that wasn’t intuitive to use.
  • Adoption Inertia – For a social network to become a mainstay it has to get over the adoption hump. This is a chicken or the egg scenario in which users won’t join unless their friends have joined but their friends won’t have joined unless their friends have joined (you get the endless circle here).

How many social networks out there have mastered the last ingredient? There may be dozens of well-built, well-intentioned social networks but without the interest by potential users, the market is beginning to become saturated. Instead of creating the next big thing, developers are creating a lot of noise in the marketplace to the point where consumers may simply begin to tune out. When that happens, I predict many will stick with what they’re used to, Facebook, and the new networks will fail to gain traction.

What do you think? Will additional social networks continue to bloom? Can the market stomach every new idea that comes out? What will prevail in the end, the all-inclusive social network or the niche-specific one?