Luluvise, the new social network built exclusively for women, is trying to pull-off a difficult trick: How does a network reach critical mass while excluding half of the world's population? Is there any role for a social network whose major selling-point is who it will not let in?
It's all very well excluding men, but that's no good to anyone unless they build a network that women actually want to use - especially in preference to the existing services. While it would be all too easy to make a 'pinked up and dumbed down' version of existing social networks, the challenge Luluvise faces is to offer a significantly better product than their rivals in one key area: understanding women's needs. Fortunately their intimate set up means they are starting with a good idea: There are often things women do not want to share with everybody - we want to be selective with whom we share our inner-most thoughts.
My Facebook account connects me with just about every person I've met in my life (my own fault, as when it was still a novelty and I 'friended' anyone who'd have me). The over-connectedness of this most successful network undermines its usefulness to me, and as my Facebook experience becomes overwhelmed by the trivia of near-strangers lives it becomes increasingly less effective as a way to connect with the people I love. If Luluvise can offer something more selective then they're on to something good. But is providing greater control over who you can connect with enough to encourage people to migrate away from the big social networks?
A third of female social networkers already feel overwhelmed by the quantity of communications they receive, a problem exacerbated by the ever-increasing multiplicity of channels available for messaging. Even though women are more busy than ever we are still the most active social networkers - what we need isn't one more alien network to deal with, but for something that works together with what we already use.
Our latest Lady Geek research has shown that women are increasingly frustrated by the level of fragmentation in messaging and social platforms. You cannot send a message from Twitter to a user on Facebook or Skype someone who uses Google Talk - each network is an island to itself. Would it be so difficult to allow the big networks to talk to each other? Email providers have been doing this for decades with no problems - surely the big social networks could find a way to join-up for the common good?
Women also tell us that social networks are not evolving to meet their needs - it's no longer enough to be able to exchange text and picture messages. After all, mobile networks have been doing this for a decade. Women want to be able to add an emotional layer to their communications. The social networks need to find ways to better express emotions online. Women are calling for more varied methods of participating with friends than current networks provide.
Making a product that women love does not have to mean excluding men - it just means you have to listen better to what women actually want. Really listen. Spend time with women. Women are telling us that there's plenty wrong with today's social networks and if Luluvise opens their ears there is every chance they could be a phenomenal success.
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