The digitally connected world is in the middle of a social network explosion. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn boast memberships in the hundreds of millions.
On Facebook, users are linked by their relationships to each other. They may or may not share interests, philosophies or hobbies. But niche social media sites connect users through common interests. Rather than gathering at a virtual watercooler to talk about anything and everything, they gather in virtual knitting circles or virtual book clubs. And it turns out, a lot of people want to connect to other people who are, in some way or another, just like them.
Niche social networks didn’t take off as quickly as originally thought. Just take a look at Ning, the social networking tech firm once hailed as the next Google. It was built on the proposition of people forming mini-social networks for their apartment building or Little League. Ning never fully met expectations, and it’s now on the block for $150 million, a small amount compared to the vast capital plowed into the company. Still, several niche networks have built robust audiences. They’ve actually been helped in many ways by Facebook and major social networks, which are a critical source of enabling new users to find people they already know, thanks to APIs. Here are five interesting examples:
Ravelry.com: Launched in 2007, this site features forums that enable devotees of needle arts to interact. Users can enter details about the yarns, needles and patterns they are working with, and that information immediately becomes a part of the collective wisdom of the site, accessible to all members. The site has more than a million registered users, with between 100,000 and 140,000 people visiting per day, according to Quantcast. Although the site has a number of national advertisers, hosts microtransactions between members and has a small boutique of branded merchandise, it is still, relatively speaking, a small community. When users began clamoring for a mobile app, the site’s admin responded in a blog that an app for multiple devices would be prohibitive. Instead, the company has chosen to create a HTML5-enabled mobile website that will accommodate most newer mobile devices. It also offers an API and invites third-party developers to create apps that can be integrated into Ravelry.
DailyMile.com: This network, dedicated to runners, cyclists and swimmers, is halfway between Twitter and Facebook in its format. Users post details of their workouts, along with photos, tips and motivational information. According to Quantcast, the sites has about 235,000 visitors each month, 44 percent male and 56 percent female, with over 70 percent in the 18-49 age group, two thirds of whom have a college or graduate degree. Although the site has a very active and engaged membership from desirable demographics, it has very little advertising and, like Ravelry, has chosen to optimize its site for mobile rather than create apps. However, the site does have relationships with a number of GPS apps for the iPhone, including Runmeter, Cyclemeter and Walkmeter. Users of those apps can integrate their information into their DailyMile accounts.
Goodreads.com: One of the largest and most active of the niche social nets, Goodreads unites readers and enables them to see what their friends are reading, organize what they’ve read, list their favorite books, discuss literature and form groups. More than 7 million people visit the site monthly, according to Quantcast, and they are affluent — more than 50 percent have a household income of $60,000 and above — and educated. The site has not escaped publishers’ notice: there is advertising from publishers and film studios. Users can integrate their lists and groups with their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and apps are available for both iOs and Android devices.
Eons.com: Launched in 2006 by Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor, Eons is an online community for Baby Boomers. The demographic, notoriously self-involved and entitled, has embraced social networking with both arms. It is, for exampe, the largest growing demographic on Facebook. Eons offers members a wide variety of groups focused on both personal and community issues. Accoring to Quantcast, the site receives about 350,000 visits monthly. Its membership is split evenly between college-educated and not, and it is, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly over 50 years of age. And even though Quantcast calculates that the site’s members have disposable income — more than half make $60,000 a year or more — the site’s advertising appears to come from ad exchanges and doesn’t address boomers’ needs specifically at all. Although members frequently post requests for a mobile app, the site has not yet developed one.
Instagram.com: Despite its recent bout with Bieber fever — the pop star downloaded the mobile app and tweeted a picture of traffic to his 11 million followers, which created a frenzy of downloads for the app — Instagram has grown by leaps and bounds with its easy filtering tools that make any iPhone owner capable of producing interesting snapshots. After just launching late last year, it has attracted more than 7 million users, and an average of 15 photos are posted each second. Instagram has struck a smattering of marketing deals, and more brands are joining the platform to post their own photos. National Public Radio, for instance, has a large following there.
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