More Users Isn’t Always Better: Specialized Social Networks Have a Better Chance of Survival

Okay, I have absolutely no statistics to back up that title.

Joshua Porter posted a great article yesterday on Bokardo called “Sermo a sign of a larger trend toward specialized social networks“. In the post, Joshua says:

Sermo is a sign of a larger trend: the move to smaller, more specialized social networks that have custom tools to support a unique activity and may cater to a private or exclusive set of users. In this case it is sharing medical information among verified doctors.

I’ve blogged about Sermo in the past. I love what they are doing—creating an exclusive social network for physicians so that they can discuss medical issues long before they hit the journals (and are likely more candid than journals). Of course, they are raising a little hell as the pharmaceutical companies can no longer control their messages delivered to each physician. They are (gasp) talking to each other.

If it is possible to have a crush on a company, you know I’m in love with PatientsLikeMe. I left a comment about them on Josh’s blog, so I’ll just repeat myself:

On the other side of the medical spectrum, I’ve spoken with a few folks from Boston-based PatientsLikeMe, another example of a specialized social network. They are a network for the patients. I love that instead of Amazon’s “customers who bought this also bought this…” intelligence, they have “patients at the exact same stage of ALS as you who are experiencing these symptoms that you are have taken these medications and felt these side effects.”

Ridiculously amazing.

The market of “just because” social networks is now bloated. In order to take off you’re going to need one of these specialized networks that offers something nobody else can. One key to that can be taking detailed profile data and using it to help foster your users’ social interactions (like PatientsLikeMe, and others such as

Damn, reading that back, it sounds good. You can tell I love this idea. I recently joined Facebook. I yawned about it here. All I’ve done with it is insert widgets into my profile of specialized networks I have elsewhere (, Flickr, Twitter) and add friends that I have elsewhere. I find Facebook doesn’t really do anything more than my personal blog already does—act as an aggregator for all this information.

So, these specialized networks— (for tracking my music listening habits), (for storing my bookmarks), Flickr (for storing my photos), Twitter (for microblogging, public IM, whatever the hell you wanna call it), etc.—offer a hell of a lot more value than the “aggregator” social networks. You can easily hop to another aggregator (or create your own) and add the specialized content to that new profile. You still need the specialized services, but the Facebooks and MySpaces become expendable.

Then there’s OpenID and portable social networks (via Oberkirch). Once these reach their enormous potential, what really is the purpose of Facebook or MySpace?


  1. On August 29th, 2007 at 3:24 pm Paul P said:

    I really like LinkedIn as a place for professionals to get back in touch. I think it is probably better to be found there then on myspace by a potential employer.

  2. On August 30th, 2007 at 7:41 am Jeremy Weiskotten said:

    Hey Adam,

    Thanks for spreading the word about PatientsLikeMe — I’m a software engineer there. I saw the Sermo post on Bokardo and was going to point to PLM too, but you beat me to it!

    We’ve been busy with improvements (most noticeably a new public home page designed by your pal Kate Brigham) and we’re pretty close to rolling out a new community and set of tools for HIV/AIDS.

  3. On August 30th, 2007 at 8:31 am Connie Bensen said:

    Hi Adam,
    I agree with you that Facebook is overwhelming & without a specific purpose, the silly app’s seem pointless. I have my community exploring the possibilities of gaining people interested in our hobby/passion. And I have a group for my company’s products & that’s growing.
    Our community is composed of hundreds of websites & some are closed. I see Facebook as a place for all the people to interact openly. But your example makes me wonder if we need a specialized network – it’s a good idea! I see the specialized network integrated with Facebook as a great combination.
    (I added you on Twitter).

  4. On May 2nd, 2008 at 8:02 am The Power of Niche Social Network Sites - Bokardo said:

    [...] favorite example is, which was pointed out to me by Adam Darowski in response to an earlier post I wrote: Sermo a sign of a larger trend toward specialized social [...]