Why, the WordPress model of course. Offer two products: the application and the service. Provide hosting and data services for those who are too lazy/inexperienced/unwilling to set up their own instance of this OpenFriendBook while also providing the application for free to those who don’t mind doing their own maintenance.
Keep data private, but for those willing to participate, allow indexing and advertising services. Sell premium services, but let others produce free services and extensions without hinderance. Make money off of those who are willing, but maintain a strong fan base by sticking to the right to choose your own path instead of choosing it for your customers.
Ning failed because it was offering too much and was too resource-intensive without actually generating revenue. No other platform seems willing to take on Facebook directly, sticking to niches such as professional life, or media. MySpace is too ugly and losing people fast, and others are just more of the same.
We need a middle ground between the ability to share social information with one another without being encumbered by an individual’s personal design taste (this need not be the revival of the hot-pink-background Angelfire site), while still being able to retain privacy. True cultural change, in this case a radical shift in our information cultural, doesn’t happen because you shove it down peoples’ throats. True cultural change happens when individuals are presented with options and opportunities and make their own informed decisions. Facebook is taking the former route. Now we just need some snappy coders to help others take the latter. The tools are there. Who will pick them up?
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