As Facebook turns 10 and Twitter climbs to 241 million users worldwide, the billion dollar question remains: What is the social network of the future?
Some analysts claim it will revolve around images, a la SnapChat or Pinterest. Others predict that it will be a private network, akin to Nextt. However, as I watch my five-year-old son build train tracks, dig deep for gold, and design beautiful waterfalls—together with his dad—I'm convinced I have a front row seat to the future of social.
As authors Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson explain in their book, Minecraft, some of the first testers of Markus Persson's creation felt that "they hadn't found a game; they found a playground for all they could imagine." In their book they theorize that maybe Minecraft isn't a game at all; perhaps it is in fact a social network, or maybe what social networks will become. something else altogether.
While there isn't one clear definition, there surely is no comparison. True, the graphics aren't anything to write home about, but that doesn't stop millions obsessively playing. Here are three social things Minecraft does really well.
Social networks as we know them today are entirely one-dimensional. Log in to Facebook and you have the option to create a post, comment on posts or add an image or video. While it's impressive that more than 1 billion people log in every month, it's not a place to get creative. Twitter's simplicity, 140 characters, helps to make it a real-time hit; however, today's maker generation is bound to find it boring.
Minecraft, on the other hand, is all about building—crafting and sharing, sharing and crafting. Some of the game's top block-based creations include the Space Shuttle, Minas Tirith (The Lord of the Rings), and the Winter Palace. While such extreme creative possibilities exist, the Pocket Edition is simple enough that even pre-schooler can join the fun.
Take a spin over to MinecraftEdu to learn how Minecraft is being used in schools around the world. The "mod" lets teachers adapt Minecraft for the classroom, enabling them to write assignments, create boundaries, and guide their students to create together. As game-based learning expert Alan Gershenfeld says in a recent issue of Scientific American, "not only is Minecraft immersive and creative, but it is an excellent platform for making almost any subject area more engaging."
Outside of the school environment, there are plenty of examples of intense collaboration among the fans—inside and outside of the game. For example, active contributors manage the Minecraft Wiki, an info-heavy place where anyone can contribute to more than 3,000 helpful articles.
There are millions of disparate communities connecting on today's top social networks. The Minecraft community, on the other hand, feels more whole. Minecon, Minecraft maker Mojang's annual convention, kicked off with much success in 2010. Last year, the company shared on their blog that they were selling tickets for the gathering in advance (7,500 quickly sold out), explaining that it was the only way they wouldn't have to turn away tens of thousands of fans at the door.
The Minecraft YouTube community is so vast that there is now a new gathering (not affiliated with Mojang) taking place in New York City in 2014; Mineorama is a fan-based Minecraft YouTuber Convention.
Aside from solid creation, collaboration, and community at its core, Persson deserves a lot of credit for showing us that the next big thing in social must be game-based. While he probably didn't set out with this goal in mind, watch a five-year-old Minecrafter and you too will see our social networking future unfold, one building block at a time.
[Image: Flickr user Jared Tarbell]