Friday, October 15, 2004

Lycos becomes a social network

Lycos has released a beta of a consumer service that, at first glance, may be an excellent prototype for a corporate toolset that makes collaborative social networking among members of project teams (or within restricted communities of practice) easy and intuitive.

Last year, social networking was the Big Buzz. Friendster, a peer-to-peer networking environment became instantly popular among younger web users. Spoke made some inroads into professional users. Even Google launched a social networking system called Orkut. None of them set the world on fire, but maybe that's about to change.

Earlier this year, Lycos said it was going to change its business model and become a major player in social networking. Lycos changed ownership two months ago when the South Korean company Daum Communications bought it from Terra Networks, but that transition has not affected its change in strategy. In fact, a Korean perspective on networking may be just what is needed. Yesterday, Lycos released the beta of its new incarnation: Lycos Circles.

Lycos Circles is a "social sharing platform" designed to help users users stay in touch with their different circles of friends and acquaintances. Other social networking tools have tended to focus on broadening your network of contacts, or helping you connect with others via mutual acquaintances. Lycos Circles seems to be focused on adding value to existing social relationships.

Unlike the major blogging tools, which allow anyone on the web to see your content, Lycos Circles lets you restrict access to different circles of people. Lycos Circles gives users a set of instant personal communities within which users can choose what to share or discuss and what not to share or discuss, and who to include in which circles. You might have a family circle, a friends circle, a professional circle, a neighborhood watch circle, and so on, each with different priveleges and levels of access.

Lycos has a number of properties that can be invoked to make these social networks more feature-laden and content-rich: Angelfire and Tripod allow blogging, personal websites, and photo sharing, and People Search and Discussion Search allow you to find and connect with others. It's all about creating and sharing dynamic, relevant content that is not only personalized, but "circle-specific".

As with all new concepts on the web, the new Lycos business model is a little unclear, though apparently in-context ads a la Google AdSense will appear within your content. Lycos Circles is also partnering with outside services, such as the truly excellent online photo service Shutterfly.

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