In today's Miami Herald, I have a story about social networking entrepreneurs starting sites that target a niche community, rather than trying to be the next Facebook or LinkedIn. It's the same concept as how a mom-and-pop diner can thrive alongside a mega chain restaurant.
Due to space restrictions, I couldn't include what I learned from an interview with Myfamily.com. It's a social network that has been around before the word "social network" was even uttered in the same sentence as "online." It launched in 1998, and although it has gone through changes since the original version, it has always been a place where a family can set up a password-protected network to share news and media with other family members on an invite-only basis.
Sean Malone, the site's senior director of product management, said there are about two million active users today. The company allows people to create a free family network (with ads on it), or they can pay a subscription that starts at $29 a year for an ad-free network (the subscription comes with other perks).
In that business model, subscriptions are the most profitable. Malone said the Myfamily's subscription renewal rates are close to 80 percent year over year. This month, the site has seen 200,000 unique visitors from Florida.
Malone told me that the company isn't out to battle with Facebook or MySpace: "Myfamily is a compliment, rather than a competitor."
In the story I talk about SplashVision.com, a social network that is run out of Fort Lauderdale but targets the marine-lifestyle community around the world. I got an e-mail about another nautically niche site called TheBoaters.com. They also connect up through applications like Boatbook on Facebook to target people on other social networks. And MySpace annouced today they have opened up its software code to developers.
And that seems to be a common trend among the smaller networks. Get people to come to you by luring Facebook and MySpace users through applications. It's advice that I heard throughout last week's Social Networking Conference in Miami Beach.
How many social networks are you signed up with? I have three that I use the most, and two others that I really don't go on (my college made a social network, but I just don't find myself going on there often unless someone sends a message through it). I rather just use applications on the ones I use the most than have to keep track of an addtional network. But maybe I just haven't yet come across that really nifty niche network to fill a social networking need in my life.