In an industry so fixated by numbers that new statistics are invented on a daily basis, it's easy to lose sight of a fundamental question: What is it?
The question of taxonomy, identifying and labeling a particular player or group of players in the digital space, is one of the first queries put to any new entry. But somehow social networks, perhaps buoyed by a meteoric rise in popularity, have managed to skirt the fundamental question.
Long the darlings of Silicon Valley, sites like MySpace and Facebook have presented the world with nothing short of a phenomenon -- and advertisers with the promise of a massive audience with members who are both ) just as the site launched the Fox Interactive Media Audience Network, a kind of hybrid ad network containing smaller verticals developed out from MySpace's niche communities.
But Facebook's attempts to poach Google executives and MySpace's constant reshuffling, may still miss the larger point.
At their core, social networks are closer to a telephone conversation or a meeting in a coffee house than reading a newspaper or watching TV. For Smith, that means sites like MySpace and Facebook are probably good places to deliver marketing messages, but not specific ads. Precisely what that means isn't certain, but according to Smith, social networks are in danger of being destroyed by salvos from Madison Ave. His advice: Take a step back and figure out how the brand can participate in a new kind of community experience and leave the impressions to publishers.
Michael Estrin is associate editor at iMediaConnection.