For over a decade, broad and comprehensive social networks like Facebook and its previously popular predecessor, MySpace, have been the predominant social networks. In the last few years, startups have been building niche social networks that offer unique features depending on users’ interests. Some of these networks are geared towards those affected by cancer, and others towards pet owners. While Facebook doesn’t look like its popularity or growth are going to slow down anytime soon, several of these other niche networks are positioned to become just as hot for those with specialized interests. Here are four new social networks to watch in 2012 — and potentially even join, too.
We initially wrote about Empire Avenue as soon as it launched in early 2011, and while this social network isn’t “new,” it is finally out of beta and more popular than ever. Empire Avenue is a social network with an intense gamification layer, allowing users to buy and sell virtual stock in other users based on the social influence of others as determined by their activity on a plethora of external social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Foursquare, their blogs, and much more. The reasons for using Empire Avenue are incredibly beneficial, especially for networking. As I wrote last year, this social network can help you connect with “some of the best and brightest of social media (or, just with those you admire and respect in the real world),” which can also help lead you to business opportunities, such as partnerships and jobs. New features of Empire Avenue, including missions, can also benefit your external social networks, including increased readership, boost to Facebook fan pages, and even an increase in Klout score, which provides a circular benefit to your Empire Avenue price and position in the “game” layer of the network.
You’ve likely heard about Foursquare by now, and might even use it to claim bragging rights by checking in the most to your local coffee shop or bar as the “mayor.” While checking in on Foursquare can help share your daily whereabouts with your friends and potentially claim a discount for frequenting your local coffee shop, the emerging social network GetGlue wants to duplicate the process while you’re enjoying TV, a movie, or music so your friends know what you’re watching or listening to just as often as they know that you’re getting Thai for dinner yet again. Using GetGlue is easy; users can simply check in to a show they are watching, which can be tweeted or shared on other social networks just like Foursquare. It’s an easy way to tell your friends that you’re watching the newest episode of your favorite show without having to think of a witty tweet or Facebook update. GetGlue will also share how many other GetGlue users are watching the show or movie with you at the same time, which can help potentially sway your friends to tune in — all with just a few taps on your smartphone. GetGlue is a free app for iPhone, iPad, and Android users and was recently awarded “Breakout Startup of the Year” by Mashable. If you watch TV and movies or listen to music, this is not just an app to watch, but a must-have in 2012.
Need something to do? A self described “scrappy” team on Google is working on what’s destined to be a hot new social component of Google’s social products. This app, called “Schemer” is simply designed to help you “do stuff.” While it’s still in invite-only mode, the site says “Schemer lets you discover new things to do, share schemes with friends, and make the most of your day…whether it’s exploring a new city, checking out a friend’s movie recommendation, or just finding new activities for your weekends.” It’s hard to say whether this will become a component of Google+ or get axed just as fast as other “projects” Google test drives then kills, like its entire collection of Labs. Considering the increasing adoption of Google+ — and the fact new Google users must join Google+ — Schemer could quickly become a hot social network if automatically integrated. If you want to try it out for yourself first, sign up for an invite at Schemer.com.
If you’re looking for a social network that allows you to choose your niche within a social network, Chime.in is quickly becoming a popular option and addition to the regular routine of using just Facebook (and perhaps Twitter and Google+). This new social network, owned by UberMedia (which famously lost a bid to buy TweetDeck to Twitter in early 2011), launched last fall and is formatted in a way that allows users to post what are essentially micro-blogs, though much more elegantly than Facebook’s new similar intent of the same style. According to Sheigh, the Executive Editor at UberMedia and Chime.in, at Chime.in, “it’s incredibly easy to share videos, publish polls, create photo galleries, share news memes, and write media-enriched posts.” She adds that, like Facebook’s status updates, “chimes” can be liked, commented on, and shared to other social networks. The difference between Chime.in and Facebook, however, is that Chime.in is organized around interests rather than by contacts. Sheigh says that “the interests enable both topical and social discovery.” Chime.in uses an editorial team to keep users active and engaged, which has generated a very thoughtful community. For those looking to escape the mundane or negativity of more popular social networks, Chime.in is a great alternative and, as we mentioned last year, has the potential to be the next big social network if it continues its current growth pattern.
Have you recently joined a new social network? Share your favorite up-and-coming niche networks in the comments below.