Social networking, however, is supposed to be about stimulating interconnection. However, all of them rely on one fact: they all wish to become the uncontested market leader. The reasoning being, if you have all the 2 billion Internet users in your service, you can interconnect them all. So the point is to make sure everybody abandons all other social networking tools and come to yours instead. In fact, this shouldn’t surprise us much: after all, in the mid-1990s, Web 1.0 “portals” tried to do the same: Yahoo, Microsoft, and others tried to become “the portal that connects to everywhere”, and — according to their reasoning — once everybody in the world was registered to your portal, you could easily get a list of all sites to visit from one single place. It was exactly the same reasoning: compete to be the market leader, eliminate the competition, and you’ll find everything you need on a single source.
At this point, promoters of universal access would bring up the car analogy. Competition in the car industry doesn’t necessarily mean that each car company is an isolated island. All cars use the same fuel to run (or, well, a very limited set — mostly petrol, diesel and biodiesel, LPG, or ethanol…). They use the same roads. They are subject to the same traffic regulations. What this means is that the car industry competes very aggressively by focusing on developing a better product, but this product will still have to be “compatible” with the “car networking infrastructure”: using the same fuel, driving on the same roads. So, although the car industry in the late 1890s might indeed have shown some fragmentation, it quickly consolidated because a market of billions simply cannot work without some standards.
Nevertheless, that’s what the Web 2.0 social networking site developers think they can do. They have the numbers to back them up: each of the most popular services proudly boasts having hundred million or more users. In their minds, sooner or later the competition will give up, and then they can simply forget about “interconnection”, once they have established themselves as uncontested leader. Friendster and hi5 tried that in 2003; MySpace in 2006; Facebook and Twitter are doing so in 2009. And always some direct competitor eclipsed them and their plans of “social networking world domination” went astray.
It’s irrelevant if you have a million or hundred million users; fragmentation — specially among thousands of similar tools! — will ultimately lead to a lack of clear “market leader”. Social networking sites delude themselves by pointing to success cases of the Web 1.0 like Amazon or eBay, which are uncontested leaders in their areas (even though neither have displaced the smaller e-commerce sites). The case with them, however, was different: they had little competition to start with, were long-term planners, and weren’t really imposing a communication protocol but simply a service. People like Facebook, however, are far more ambitious: they wish, for instance, that people stop using email and start using Facebook messaging instead, and rely on articles and studies showing that email is dead, mostly because of the inability to deal with spam (while all social networking sites require you to accept others as friends before you can get messages from them — an idea that was present on FriendFinder since 1996!).
Email, however, unlike Facebook messages, reaches all the 2 billion Internet users.