I'm sitting by a in florida wondering about this question. (Don't believe in real vacations:)
First, what have we learned? The facebook has shown us the power of both closed trusted networks and highly penetrated communities. I've been waiting for some researcher like danah boyd to show us a graph. I'm sure it would prove that there is an exponential increase in user value as a network goes from 1 % to 10 % and 30 %. (And if someone has already shown this, let me know.)
Myspace has shown us that people (kids so far) have a real interest in an online identity that they *completely* control.
Friendster showed people's real interest in seeing their extended social maps but so far has fallen short of showing any utility with it.
My take is that kids have a lot more time and therefore interest in just checking each other out and that is why myspace and facebook have shown more growth and staying power.
As people get older and have less free time they are more concerned with the utility of a service and that is why craigslist may be the only large and sustained social network for adults. Some people may question inclusion of CL here but I believe it is a loose knit community network and not just a free classifieds site. How else does one explain its growth in seemingly dormant markets like phila or greenbay.
So what's next? Well, I don't believe its over. I think we will yet see one or two more services reach the audience sizes of myspace/facebook but they may look far different than the hosted portal model.
I think the functions of social networking will become more *owned* by communities and end users and less controlled by large media services as their interests are not well aligned.
I can imagine the social networking function hosted on my own pc, possibly integrated with my email and other communications services. This should be totally seamless. When I meet someone I want to add to my network I should be able to just beam them with my phone or blueberry. This should automagically connect our networks.
The resulting social map should me MINE and usable across all web services.
* listings on craigslist or ebay I should be able to invoke it to find trust.
* dating profile on match or jdate * fast reference checking on a resume for personal assistant * new entrepreneurial services should sprout up that offer tons of other services. Let me know if a tennis player I kinda know is nearby and interested in a game. Find me a house to rent or swap in south of france from another sorta friend. * google, yhoo, amzn should all build open social maps into everything they do
Paul martino, marc canter and others designed the open FOAF standard for this purpose a few years ago. While FOAF (friend of a friend) is an open (but encrypted) xml file format for a totally distributed and user controlled approach, the open map could also work like DNS and be replicated openly across many services acting as brokers.
I wouldn't be surprised to see google local be a first large mover with something like FOAF as they may have the most to gain from more useful local services. Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.