Red Herring touts the impending arrival of the 800-lb. gorillas in the social networking space

According to Red Herring, a pack of similar companies fight for attention, while competition from the big dogs looms.

I agree… AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, et al., will not stand idly by while the social networking startups eat away at the time users spend on the big boys’ groups and communities. However, I think this trend isn’t something that anyone — users or social networking startup executives — needs to be worried about.

In the case of full-fledged networking communities like Ryze and Ecademy, the technology may not be of much interest to the big players, but the loyal, revenue-generating member bases of tens or hundreds of thousands of users will be.

For companies with enterprise-focused, patented software, like Spoke, hopefully they’ve realized all along that ultimately, they’re just a piece of a much larger infrastructure, and not destined to be a stand-alone application forever. If they can successfully demonstrate a viable revenue model on top of their proprietary intellectual property, they’ll be prime acquisition targets, probably by the end of 2004.

But what does this all mean to the user—the networking practitioner? Right now, not much at all. The funding many of these companies have received is a good indication of continued viability for the foreseeable future. There’s a great window of opportunity right now to get in as an early adopter and build your social capital. And when the 800-lb. gorillas do finally enter the game, you really have nothing to lose. Odds are very good that these sites will get acquired, not simply disappear. And even if they did disappear, keep in mind that your investment is really in the people you connect with, not the system you use to do so.