I recently realized that I now spend more time on niche social networks than on general social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Sites like Dribbble, Goodreads, Letterboxd and of course my own creation, dpadd, are permanently pinned to my browser and visited often throughout the day. I find that it's beginning to feel like a chore to keep up to date on the big networks and filter down to find information I actually care about. Let's explore why...
The functionality of a niche social network is designed for a specific vertical and thus provides more bang for your buck than "one size fits all" functionality. Niche social networks create personalized, curated experiences that you would need to work hard at to achieve on Twitter or Facebook. It's everything the user wants, be it books, games or movies, on tap and in abundant supply.
Features are more engaging because they directly relate to a user's passions. When I say I've read a book on Goodreads it relates directly to something thats happened in the real world. For what ever reason, it's also somewhat comforting to record all the books I read or games I've played. It feels good to know that I have a place to record and save that information. It also strokes the ego a bit to show off your list of "accomplishments" and it's nice to play the critic every once in a while by rating or reviewing titles.
Many niche social networks include tools to help manage your interests. Lists of what you want to watch, play or read are great examples that provide actual value to a user beyond just being a place to connect with others. This may be because many of these sites started out as tools and then built social features in to encourage engagement. What ever the original reason, niche social networks provide a ton of value beyond just connecting with others.
Like-minded user bases
I have lots of great friends on Facebook but they live in a totally different world than I do. Facebook is not the place I'm going to go to read peer reviews of the latest first person shooter or to gather feedback on a UI design I've been working on. Niche social networks connect you with like minded individuals, many of whom you likely don't know in the real world. Some people may even be embarrassed to share certain things on Facebook, but are happy to share within an audience they know have the same interests.
Niche social networks have been around for a long time but are continuing to flourish. They provide a ton of value for their users beyond just being a social hang out. And, as we learned with the recent Goodreads acquisition (with a rumored price-tag in the hundreds of millions), are becoming serious businesses.