Social Networking Awards - The Top Social Networks of 2008

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    The Social Networking Awards are sponsored by Photobucket. If you have a social site, you can use Photobucket’s JWidget tool - this is a free plugin that provides image and video hosting for your users.

Is it really the holiday already? Not quite - we’ve still got to announce the Social Networking Awards 2006! With thousands of votes cast, the People’s Choice attracted a much bigger response than anyone expected. Meanwhile, we agonized over which companies to pick as Mashable’s choices (the “Judge’s Choice”).

For those who are interested, our picks were made by Mashable, Mashable Labs and Advantage Consulting Services, the team that oversees social network consulting for our clients, in addition to recommending the best partners and white label social networks. The ACS team also has a background in web development (they were behind the stats service CrazyEgg, for instance), but they don’t have any competing services in the social networking space. Our criteria were: Growth and Momentum; Design and Usability; Uniqueness/Innovation. There are two winners in each category, followed by the sites that are “Hot for 2007″ - a combination of your votes and our picks.

A note on voting: most of you stuck to the rules when it came to voting, and we made exceptions in the rare instances where users accidentally voted twice (the second vote was excluded). However, one company repeatedly attempted to submit scores of votes from a handful of IP addresses - in accordance with the rules, this company has been excluded from the competition. Voting was closed at around 6PM PDT on Saturday - any votes received after that time were not counted.

1. Mainstream and Large Scale Networks

Our Choice: MySpace

People’s Choice: Multiply

Hot for 2007: Bebo, Vox, Facebook, Facebox

View Nominees

You can say what you like about MySpace - horrible code, ugly design, a failure to embrace outside developers - but the users don’t seem to care. With over 140 million accounts (not all active, admittedly), MySpace has become a cultural phenomenon. The site’s standout feature is the freedom it provides to users - you can add slideshows, pictures, custom designs and much more. MySpace is also the number one destination online for upcoming bands, and their plan to sell music from these bands next year is surely set to reshape the music industry. We see MySpace as the new MTV, with one crucial difference: the users are the stars. With a MySpace page, anyone can be a celebrity, creating an online image that’s sometimes an alter-ego to their true personality. In the coming year, MySpace plans to expand to the massive Chinese market (see MySpace China). We’re not convinced that they can stand up to local competition, but we’re keen to find out.

Meanwhile, we think Bebo is the most “exciting” social network right now. With a massive user base and a site that actually works, we think they’ll grow rapidly in 2007.

We like Multiply, and so do Multiply’s dedicated users. A small post about the Social Networking Awards on the Multiply blog resulted in a landslide win for the social network, which emphasizes networking with real friends. We’ve expressed concerns in the past that this “closed” model may slow their growth, but we also feel that it differentiates Multiply from the hordes of MySpace clones. That said, Multiply now has a major competitor. Vox, which came second in terms of votes despite the lack of coaxing by the Vox team, is an outstanding blog platform. We were bowled over by it when it launched in October, and if we had a “hosted blogs” category, we would have chosen Vox.

So how about the other nominees? Facebook might not be the most popular among our readership, but the majority of college students consider it to be an essential tool. However, we’re a little less optimistic about Facebook than we were at the start of the year: now that acquisition talks with Yahoo are off the cards, they may need to go it alone, while the Facebook news feed and the decision to open up the site were risky choices that may or may not pay off. Some are saying that Facebook is set for exponential growth now they allow everybody to join. Others, meanwhile, think they may be the next Friendster - overconfident, and unwilling to listen to their users. That said, Facebook users have no alternative site to defect to - we think that Facebook will continue to grow strongly in 2007.

We also noticed a tongue-in-cheek vote for Walmart’s “School Your Way” site (technically called “The Hub”), which we found hilarious - Walmart’s failed attempt at social networking was a classic example of how to do everything wrong.

2. Widgets and Add-Ons

Our Choice:

People’s Choice: Zwinky

Hot for 2007: RockYou, Stickam, Snocap, Zingfu, MyBlogLog

View Nominees and RockYou have been the most talked-about widgets this year, with gaining a little more traction with the MySpace set. Both are impressive products which give users the freedom to express themselves. Even the launch of MySpace’s own service, MySpace slideshows, didn’t put a dent in the popularity of these two slideshow tools. Zingfu, another one of our favorites this year, has also achieved success by allowing users to create funny images of themselves and their friends. Meanwhile, we think Stickam’s live webcams are a killer idea, and the service will be a big success. We’re also hopeful that MyBlogLog, a service that helps communities to form around blogs, will successfully expand to the mainstream in 2007 - they added support for MySpace only a few weeks ago, and we think that could be crucial.

The popular vote, meanwhile, went to Zwinky. The avatar service has a huge, dedicated user base consisting largely of teens. In our original review, we said that Zwinky “will probably be a massive viral success despite a lack of interest from the geek elite”. We stand by that claim going into 2007.

3. Social News and Social Bookmarking

Our Choice: Digg

People’s Choice: Trailfire

Hot for 2007:, StumbleUpon, Blinklist

View Nominees

As the site that defined social news as we know it, we had no hesitation in choosing Digg as our pick in this category. Digg’s ability to send massive amounts of traffic to any site became legendary, while it has largely eclipsed Slashdot as the hot hangout for tech addicts. We’ve yet to see whether the site’s expansion beyond technology will succeed, but we still feel that Digg’s contribution to the social space has been vital. Meanwhile, the undisputed leader of social bookmarking, has continued its unstoppable momentum this year, and will probably do so in 2007. But we also love StumbleUpon: the 4 year-old site shows us that not all successful startups were an instant hit. Even so, the enthusiasm for StumbleUpon is almost universal, and we like their new StumbleVideo service.

Your choice was Trailfire, a service that lets you create “trails” of pages and share them with others. We gave the service a cautiously positive review when it launched, and we’d still love the ability to create new trails without downloading the browser plugin.

4. Sports and Fitness

Our Choice: FanNation

People’s Choice: Takkle

Hot for 2007: SportsVite, Ultrafan

View Nominees

This category had some very strong contenders. The People’s Choice went to the high school sports site Takkle (we like it too), while we picked FanNation. As we’ve said in the past, FanNation’s interface can be a little bamboozling at first, but we think overall the site’s design and feature set is strong. We feel the same way about Takkle, which has improved dramatically with the recent addition of video. However, SportsVite and Ultrafan were also very strong, and new to us. We hope to have more coverage of all these sites in the New Year. Our testing also suggested that none of these sites has established a large user base yet - there’s still plenty of opportunity for newcomers in this market.

5. Photo Sharing

Our Choice: Flickr

People’s Choice: Twango

Hot for 2007: Zooomr, Webshots, ImageShack, Tabblo, Pickle, BubbleShare

View Nominees

Our choice in this category is probably fairly predictable: Flickr was one of the early innovators in the photo-sharing space, to the extent that other new photo-sharing sites began to be labeled “Flickr clones”. Perhaps one of the biggest innovators this year has been Zooomr, which has added features at a tremendous pace - they lost out narrowly in the voting to the media-sharing site Twango (we also gave that one a fairly positive review this year), but we think Zooomr might be one of the hottest players as we go into 2007. We’re also excited about BubbleShare, a startup that hasn’t gained much coverage here, but seems to have some innovative ideas. And let’s not forget about Webshots, which was massively improved by a redesign and the addition of many new features this year.

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