The recent news of Plaxo’s acquisition by Comcast stimulates some interesting discussion. What exactly is (or should be) the role of social networking in telecom? On the surface, it seems as if social networking and telecom make a perfect fit. On the service provider side, you have a business relationship and connectivity with thousands or millions of customers (depending on company size). On the social networking side, you have a method for building, maintaining, and strengthening relationships around areas of interest. Why not bring those two strengths together? It’s always easier said than done with issues like this. For example, could you have cultures that are more diametrically opposed as entrepreneurial web 2.0 start ups and status quo “utility” service providers? Probably not. Secondly, social networking outfits love to be on the edge and some probably see the Plaxo acquisition as somewhat of a sell out. On the other side, traditional telecom service providers aren’t exactly sure what a social networking business model is and how to truly monetize its assets.
But back to the original question – does it make sense for these two to connect? One might perceive Comcast as taking the lead with this, at least among “national” players. We can add Plaxo to Fandango and Fancast, which will all make up the Comcast Interactive Media division. Comcast clearly has some semblance of an interactive media strategy, and Plaxo may play a big role. The two were already connected, with Plaxo developing the address book platform for Comcast’s SmartZone communications center. SmartZone is a unified communications platform targeting the consumer sector, and will launch later this year. Plaxo also hosts the address books of Comcast Web mail users. If you’re the creative type, you can begin to see the potential of marrying Comcast’s entertainment and subscriber assets with Plaxo’s social networking application development experience. The end result could be interesting social networking applications that blend my entertainment and media interests with my social network. Such a blend may enhance the value of being a Comcast subscriber and build a competitive advantage for them. It also doesn’t hurt that social networks tend to have millions of subscriber relationships. Relationships that Comcast and companies like them would love to market to. Some might argue that cable companies are better suited than their telecom competitors for these types of partnerships because of their media heritage. But telecom still has a trick up their sleeves which may be the trump card for all social networking – mobility services. Where does this all lead? Stay tuned.