The social networking scene is constantly in flux. The big 3 (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) are at the top of the heap right now. But challengers are springing up all the time, hoping to leverage the next big wave into a lucrative IPO.
Actually there are two giant waves in the sea of social networking -- mobility and games.
As people move from desktops and laptops to iPads and smartphones, everything is moving to mobile apps, says Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg. "People have their phones with them all the time, not their laptops. When they communicate, whether it's verbal, text, or a social app, they use their phones."
And since people are on the move, the savvy social media companies are adding location into the mix, either by having people check-in wherever they are (foursquare), or by using GPS to connect people who are in close proximity (Color).
The second major trend is what Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang calls "gamification." People don't just want to post updates and read updates from others, they want to play games.
"Social gaming opportunities are huge," Owyang says. "These new gaming products that incorporate competitive opportunities into a social gaming environment will drastically impact consumers, and the opportunities for brands (and threats for other vendors) are enormous.
Products like Empire Avenue are a highly addictive experience that's similar to stock market gaming of your own social network. It is, in fact, the Farmville for social media."
In other words, social networking apps that raise the bar to a competitive level, in the form of a game on a smartphone, are not only the future, but the payload of the future.
Here are 5 social media sites that are creating a buzz:
1. Empire Avenue
a. Founders and date founded: Duleepa Wijayawardhana (aka Dups), Dr. Michael Mannion, and Niall Brown; 2009
b. What it does: Empire Avenue is a social media exchange network and, according to Tom Ohle, vice president of Marketing/Media Relations at Empire Avenue, is the world's first and only social network of its kind.
Members invest virtual currency in people and brands that interest them. Share prices are based on the individual or the brand's activity, engagement, and reach across other social media networks including Empire Avenue, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and others. Basically, it's a social network and a game that helps members meet and connect with new people, gain insight and metrics of their social media activity across the web, and have fun while becoming better at using the social media environment.
c. Why it's hot: Empire Avenue asks its members one fundamentally different question, and that is: if every connection members made cost them money from a limited source (even if that source is virtual currency), who would they connect with and why?