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Dear readers, I have moved to Substack and I will be writing here from now on:
In the meantime, I will leave up for posterity. Enjoy!

Oh “SNAP” = Social Network Application

A new acronym brought to you by Chris Smoak
My friend Chris Smoak came up with a great acronym today, called “SNAP” meaning Social Network Application. I thought it was clever, so use it ;-)

I much prefer it over the “widget” terminology because widgets strongly underplay their sophistication and potential of what developers can create. I agree with Max’s idea that one day, someone will build World of Warcraft (or something of that complexity) into a social network.

SNAP: The next generation of UGC?
Social Networking Applications are the next evolution of User Generated Content.

In the first generation, it was all about text and graphics that were authored by users, going as far back as mailing lists and Usenet and eBay and all of that. Today, you still see a steady progression of that in richer and richer contexts, via video and slideshows, etc.

In the next generation, widgets are BOTH content and application logic, all rolled into one. It used to be that you would e-mail only pictures to people, but now on MySpace, you can message someone a YouTube video that has a mini-version of the website embedded into the player.

It strikes me that User Generation Content is opening up into User Generated Interaction, facilitated by these full-blown applications.

Functional apps versus decorative apps
One big distinction that has been enabled by Facebook (but arguably not from MySpace) is that there’s a new class of widgets that are functional in nature versus decorative.

MySpace widgets were all about pimping your profile – adding new decorations, glittery text, moving photos, and the like.

Facebook widgets, however, allow deeper integration points as to allow substantially different applications to be built. For example, let’s look at the list of applications tracked by Appaholic, a fantastic service that tells you what the most popular widgets are:

  1. Top Friends
  2. Graffiti
  3. iLike
  4. Fortune Cookie
  5. Horoscopes
  6. X Me
  7. SuperPoke!
  8. Video
  9. Free Gifts
  10. Movies

Of these, most of them are decorative or about “personal expression” more than anything else. I left those unhighlighted. The idea there is that people are likely to use them with or without close friends on the site, and it’s just about publishing to a 2 inch by 1 inch and that’s that.

What are functional SNAPs?
The ones that I highlighted, Graffiti, X Me, Superpoke, and Free Gifts are enabling new featureset on Facebook that has never been available before. These are truly user-generated interactions rather than purely content. It’s not just about a new way to present personal content, they are true applications.

And of course, I’m a huge fan of MySpace and love to argue with haters. In general, it’s true that a lot of the apps getting released on Facebook have existed, or could have existed, on MySpace for years. However, simply condoning widget developers rather than offering them a deep API to integrate into, they are missing the boat on a new generation of new functionality, rather than purely content.

The future of SNAPs
One random wild guess on the future of SNAPs will be that the social networks will hand over more and more control to people. Here would be the evolution:

  • Allow people to put UGC data into templates (think eBay)
  • Allow people to put UGC data onto their own pages
  • Give people some small real estate to display applications (widgets)
  • Give people entire pages and controls to display applications
  • Let developers author entire sub-websites that run as apps?

Of course, this all assumes that these apps end up living as walled gardens within sites like Facebook. An equally interesting idea is if social networks become more distributed in nature, providing an underlying platform of user data, infrastructure, monetization, and other services – then you might be going to sites that are secretly Facebook widgets, but you’d never know as the user.

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