The world of social media might be crowded, but that's certainly not stopping new players entering the market. The success of Pinterest and Instagram this year has shown that it's possible for relative newcomers to make a big impact. And while Facebook may boast close to a billion users, many alternatives are aimed at a more exclusive audience.
This week, it was reported that the Winklevoss twins, best known for their legal battle with Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook, have invested $1 million in SumZero, a social network aimed at professional investors. Set up by their friends and fellow Harvard alumni, Divya Narendra and Aaalap Mehadevia, it currently has 7,500 members who share trading ideas.
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are not the only ones taking a second dip in the social networking pool. Swedish entrepreneur Erik Wachtmeister recently launched a new network aimed at the "top 1 per cent of internet users". He was previously best known for a similar network, A Small World, launched the same year Facebook went online.
Best of All Worlds is an invitation-only site designed to help users find events and contacts. It's aimed at people who are "leaders in their field", whether that's media, investment banking, fashion or politics. At the time of its launch in June, it had already gained 20,000 members. Members can access city guides, view others' recommendations, and check who's attending the most stylish parties or premieres.
These launches are tapping into a growing trend. Research by Experian reported that "niche social networks" are gaining an increasing share of the market. Of course, it's hardly news that Instagram and Pinterest saw meteoric growth this year. But they found that other networks such as Reddit in Australia, FanPop in the UK, and StockTwits had seen significant gains. Google Plus is growing fast in Brazil, seeing a 5750% increase in use between July 2011 and 2012.
According to James Murray, Experian's Digital Insights Manager, part of the reason for their success is these networks are trying to offer users something different, rather than being simply "another Facebook". They've identified gaps in the market, and offer users new ways to connect and share content.He predicts a "profiliaration of niche social networks" over the next 12 months, with lower barriers to entry making it easier for newcomers to enter the market.
Another launch in the pipeline is Salamworld, which is aimed at the Muslim world. The Russian-Turkish business is set to launch in Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries with a predominantly Muslim population in November. It aims to be a "family-friendly" site, with built-in translation to help connect with members in other countries.
It's always hard to make predictions in the fast-changing world of social media. And for every new launch, it can seem that an older network fades into obscurity. Apple CEO Tim Cook announced recently they were closing the music-sharing network, Ping. While Friendster still manages to limp on, Google Buzz and Wave have both been shuttered, as has Yahoo Buzz. It remains to be seen whether the newcomers will live up to expectations.