The concept of social discovery is nothing new. In fact, it was at the heart of the beginnings of social media as dating sites latched onto the idea of meeting new people as the core of their operations and services. Today, online dating is just as big as it's ever been but social, but people are looking more towards social media to find new things that go beyond love.
While most have heard of Pinterest, few realize that one of the things that makes it successful in a world where Facebook and Twitter have dominated for years is the discovery component. On Facebook, we get to see interesting content that our friends post, but we don't get to see much of what the rest of the world shares. It's possible for a friend of a friend to share something interesting, then our own Facebook friend shares it to us, but it's not nearly at the level of Pinterest.
The concept behind Pinterest is about sharing what we find rather than sharing what we're doing. Some of the people we follow on Pinterest do nothing other than share what they find on their friends' Pinterest boards or on the popular section and therefore it gets transmitted into our view. While Facebook has networking cornered and Twitter has news well under wraps, we often don't get to see highly-interesting visuals depicted on our walls. Pinterest does that for us which is why it is growing so fast. Its biggest challenge with such growth: avoiding the Pinterest marketing spammers.
Another social discover site is Tagged. Started at the same time as Facebook, Tagged pivoted early on, recognizing as early as 2007 that Facebook would eventually win the social networking fight (even though Facebook was only at 60 million users at the time compared to 250 million for MySpace). They already had a strong user base but because pure social networking is about friends and family also being on it, there was really only room for the most popular choice (as Google+ is finding out).
Their pivot took them into a realm that allowed them to co-exist with Facebook. If Mark Zuckerberg wanted to connect friends and family, Tagged would be the place to make new friends (and get away from family). Their form of social discovery hovered around the getting the people who wanted a freshness-alternative to the ones we see every day on Facebook. Getting the "leftovers" from Facebook has been lucrative; Tagged has over 100 million users and has been profitable for 4 years.
One of the older social discovery sites that has never truly been challenged is StumbleUpon. The concept of discovery is taken to the next level with SU as users have literally no idea what piece of content they'll be served next. Through their toolbar, users stumble from page to page based upon their interest and history. They can thumb up or thumb down pages that are served to them and over time the algorithm learns the preferences of the user.
"SU knows me so well now that I rarely have to thumb anything down anymore," said social media addict Long Beach Louie. "Stumble is annoyingly addictive; you always think, 'just one more page' and then next thing you know it's 2am."
Why It's Growing
The luster is fading on pure social networking. It isn't that people don't want to do it anymore - millions are absolutely hooked. The fade that's happening is that people are wanting something else, something new, and social networking on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ is becoming too commonplace.
There's nothing new under the sun in social networking other than a few UI changes. The people are the same. The posts are the same. We will continue to use social networks but we don't expect to see anything other than the lifestream of our friends and family that is all-too familiar to us now.
Social discovery is a chance for many to find the next stage of social networking. The niche creates the freshness that people are craving.