Many social networking sites have come and gone, though it's easy to forget about most of them with monsters like Youtube and Facebook acting like they are the only kids in the classroom.  Social networking online began with a site called Six Degrees which basically invented the social-circle networking guidelines that are used by so many sites today.  It was named after the popular six degrees of separation theory (which I believe was invented by Kevin Bacon…).  More experimental than anything else, the company that made the site grew to a little over 100 employees and was eventually bought for quite a large sum of money.

Since then, many have tried to replicate and improve upon the success of that social networking site.  Some have gone on to make their inventors Man of the Year, but others have fallen into the gutter of floppery.  Taking a look at some of them can provide some insight into what is needed for a successful social networking site.  (Details after the jump…)

The Lowdown:  This was Wal-Mart's failed attempt at a social networking site for teens.  It was only online for ten weeks, with a preview left online for about two months after that.  In many ways it was a MySpace clone where users could build profiles with graphics and text related to Wal-Mart products.

Why It Failed:  To register for The Hub, user information was sent to parents in order to get approval.  This attempt from Wal-Mart to avoid future lawsuits turned off many teens.  There were also many obviously fake profiles on the site, from teens like "Beth" who just loved shopping at Wal-Mart in order to catch the eye of the cute guy at school.  The myriad of advertisements for products cluttered the profiles and 90210-ish older models posed for the pictures of the fake teens.

What Can Be Learned From It:  A successful social network needs to provide freedom for its users and as few in-your-face advertisements as possible.


The Lowdown: VitalSkate was meant to be the answer to the skater's dilemma of how to social network without having to give into the mainstream outlets.

Why It Failed:  History didn't serve VitalSkate well as its creators Salman Agah and Dave Metty had already sunk another social networking site attempt years before.  The site did not provide that many things for users to do that they couldn't do on the mainstream sites, and the audience for this social network was already against the whole idea to begin with.

What Can Be Learned From It:  KNOW your audience and act accordingly.

The Lowdown:  This was a New Zealand based startup that was meant to be a social network specifically for the older set.  It lasted less than a year before it shut its online doors.

Why It Failed:  The site failed on several fronts.  The entire site was designed in Flash, which made it look much prettier than its MySpace counterpart, but was not very practical.  To join the social network, users had to fill out a lengthy personality questionnaire and answer many questions, which users found tedious.  The network also didn't have a clear purpose.  Users under 18 were restricted from joining the site, but that certainly doesn't sound like much of an ‘old person' site to me.  It acted too similarly to the other networks out there.

What We Can Learn From It:  Social networks need to have a clear purpose from their creation, and they need to be easy (and possibly even fun) to join.

Most of the sites at which I looked failed because of one simple flaw:  failing to offer anything new to users.  Why would I want to join a social networking site that doesn't do anything special when compared to the others that already have me hooked? 

…At least I'm not having the troubles that Darcy had with her ‘MyRoom' page.

Below is a great social media timeline taken from a research paper written by Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison entitled "Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship".