Media Perspective: Facebook is so last year: more intimate network sites are in

One of the things that I love about all this digital gubbins is the speed in which it moves at. This makes the January prediction-fest a bit of a challenge, but, all caveats duly asserted, let's have a little think about what might go on in 2008.

We're going to start, this week, with the big media story of 2007 - social networking. And, if we're going to do that, we have to start with Facebook, not because it invented anything new (it wasn't the first social network), but because this was the first time that the chattering classes and media pundits paid attention and saw the point.

Facebook's contribution in 2007 was to get a huge mass of people into the social networking idea, but enthusiasm for Facebook is waning rapidly. This is partly because it made some notable goofs over the way it deploys advertising and deals with privacy, but it's mostly because Facebook isn't really about anything. It's just about itself.

The strongest social network sites appear to be about something other than just socialising: they're centred on what the theorists are calling Social Objects. For Flickr, it is photography; for MySpace, it's music. Once you've poked everyone you know, and maybe played scrabble with them, what is there to do on Facebook?

Which doesn't mean Facebook is going away, far from it. Facebook will grow, will make money, will be beloved by millions of people. It just won't regain that sexy excitement that gives it disproportionate influence and gets everyone talking.

Facebook is like the ITV of social networking: it's a great way to reach lots of people, but unlikely to give you cutting-edge credentials.

We'll see masses of closed or abandoned Facebook accounts in 2008 as people who used it to discover the worth of online networks migrate to smaller, more intimate sites: more focused on the things they're interested in, or the lives they're leading. Sites such as Dopplr or FFFFound.

Dopplr is a network for frequent travellers. You tell it where you're heading to and it shares that information with your friends on the network, leading to increased serendipity as you realise that nice guy you haven't seen for years is going to be at that same conference as you in Frankfurt. And you get together and have a beer. It's not about online chat. It's about meeting up in the real world.

FFFFound is another great example, especially for all you art directors. It's a site that lets you collect and point at great images you've found online.

The social interaction is minimal: no chatting, no games, just the sharing of images. And yet FFFFound users still feel like they are in a community. If you can get an invite, it's worth having a look. (Next week: video.)