Upstart Websites Aim to Consolidate Social Networking

Concept of Aggregating Digital Life Has Consumer Appeal but Holds Few Opportunities for Marketers

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Having trouble keeping up with the explosion of niche social networks? The latest trend in the space is aggregation -- websites such as MyLifeBrand, ProfileLinker, Open ID, OtherEgo and even the salaciously named Profilactic all present variations on the theme of organizing or simplifying a consumer's social-networking experience.
MyLifeBrand relies on advertising, premium services and social commerce.
MyLifeBrand relies on advertising, premium services and social commerce.

Certainly the idea of social-network aggregation is enticing -- not only to busy consumers but also to marketers. Forget having to figure out which of some 200 social networks is "hot or not" this week. One-stop media buying at a popular and engaging aggregate site or being able to target one person's entire web persona seems an ideal solution.

But theory may trump practice, at least for now.

"Aggregators don't necessarily become viable marketing opportunities for big brands until they can reach a certain critical mass," said John Noe, CEO at interactive agency Rokkan. "There's certainly viability in the concept of aggregating social-networking sites ... but from what's out there currently, most sites feel watered down or underdeveloped."

Three avenues
MyLifeBrand has a three-pronged revenue approach that relies on advertising, premium services and social commerce to support itself. Its users can add as many as four networks, track and cross-pollinate friends and interests, and also create branded communities of their own. The site has about 500 communities, although Exec VP Daniel Scalisi expects that number will hit several thousand by the end of the year. Amp'd Mobile, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection, is the lone marketer that has created its own community.

Some question just how necessary such tools are, given research that social-network use tends to be fairly concentrated.

"There aren't a ton of really popular social networks. Most people we survey have one or two profiles at the most," said Jupiter Research analyst Emily Riley. "It's just not common for people to have 10 social networks they need to manage."

Mr. Noe said, "In general, aggregators appeal to the smaller audience of social-networking superusers: the dashboard-toting, widget-downloading, portal-page-personalizing, content-creating early adopter of all things new."

Consolidated spending
Ad dollars are concentrated as well: While marketers spent only $350 million in ad dollars on social-networking sites in 2006, that number is expected to rise quickly to $900 million in 2007. On MySpace alone, marketers will spend $525 million this year compared with $190 million in 2006, according to eMarketer.
John Noe, CEO at interactive agency Rokkan
John Noe, CEO at interactive agency Rokkan

Another, perhaps more useful, concept, Open ID, aims to simplify the way people do business on the web by creating one single identifier -- a URL -- rather than various user names and passwords for signing in to different services. Developed in the past year-and-a-half by the folks behind Six Apart, a social-networking company whose assets include LiveJournal and Vox, Open ID has been adopted by such companies as Digg, Technorati and AOL.

Still, it faces hurdles, both from critics who suggest there are security issues with the idea and from the companies it hopes to bring on board. As Anil Dash, VP at Six Apart, points out, it's difficult to integrate services even within a single company -- he pointed to Yahoo's nonintegration of Flickr as an example -- much less open up systems to the outside.

"Everybody wants to think they're the center of people's web experience," he said. "But the reality is we all use a bunch of different sites and services."

And although aggregator users might be, as Mr. Noe said, superusers, there is a positive side to that: "The superuser [also] is probably most likely the evangelist that spreads the word to his or her friends, family and anyone who will read the latest post."
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