The popularity of Facebook, MySpace and myriad other social network sites has triggered a gold rush of opportunity for specialists that build social computing tools and sell them to businesses that want to put them in front of their customers in media and marketing campaigns.
For many businesses in e-commerce, marketing and media markets, it doesn't make sense to spend the software engineering time to build a social computing platform when they're available to "rent, borrow or buy," Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang told eWEEK.
This is why somewhere between 80 and 100 young high-tech vendors (here is a partial list on Owyang's blog) are looking to capitalize by creating white-label social networks for businesses willing to pay for them.
Sparta Social Networks CEO Jerry Sheer told eWEEK his company helps more than 40 businesses that need alternative methods of understanding their customers' attitudes. "Social networks do that for them. We supply the platform for enterprises to build and deliver these networks, but we're not a MySpace or a Facebook."
As one might expect, this includes tools that enable blogs, wikis, profiles, forums, memberships and collaborative ranking technologies. One of the reasons businesses want them is that they see how much time consumers have spent browsing Facebook and MySpace, where they interact with friends.
For media companies, this stickiness factor increases the chance that consumers will see and even click on ads. E-commerce sites that have ranking technologies can let shoppers help one another decide on what products to buy or stay away from. In other words, each vertical market has its own use for social technologies.
Terry Mackin, executive vice president at TV broadcaster Hearst-Argyle in New York, used Sparta tools to drive the community on Highschoolplaybook.com, a sports marketing destination that pools, of course, high school sports participants and news from more than 30 cities.
"It's intended to be a brand that is 'ESPN meets Facebook,'" Mackin told eWEEK. "We wanted people to create groups and profiles about themselves." Thanks to Sparta, members of the community can upload photos and video clips, and rate experiences on the site.
Mackin chose Sparta over Pringo and Pluck because it is a little more flexible with regard to its ability to serve video, an important feature for a sports site intent on luring users with multimedia.