In one of the most bizarre acquisition stories of recent times, network equipment maker Cisco announced in early March 2007 that it would purchase social networking site Tribe.net.
The announcement had Web 2.0 pundits scratching their heads, as the value of the acquisition to the world’s leading router manufacturer is not immediately evident. Tribe.net is largely a network of Californian neo-hippies swapping festival anecdotes.
Is Cisco jumping on the social networking bandwagon? Have its executives joined Tribe.net subscribers ‘Crypto’ and ‘Gothalot’ on a voyage of self-discovery through the Nevada desert?
Hardly. In fact, what Cisco is buying is not the user base but Tribe.net’s underlying technology, and for good reason: social networks attract more loyalty and consistent use than conventional websites. In 2006, Internet usage monitor comScore did not list Myspace.com among the top 10 sites ranked by unique visitors. However, in terms of page views and time spent on each site, Myspace.com was second only to pioneering web portal Yahoo.com.
Cisco hopes that companies, envious of these traffic patterns, will try to build such networks around their own brands. And if the company successfully sells this idea, the demand for networking equipment will skyrocket, because the very characteristic that makes social networks so appealing to marketers (their inherent ‘stickiness’) also makes them a nightmare to support.
Users of social networks tend to stay longer, click more and absorb more content than visitors to static websites. That is great news for companies hoping to promote their brands, but even better news for the vendors whose equipment makes it possible.