For example, Facebook and MySpace have not been particularly effective in serving their users in a professional context, either as job seekers or as employees who may leverage their social network to do their jobs, like salespeople or recruiters. This opportunity fueled the rise of LinkedIn, as well as my previous employer, Visible Path. As another example, while each of the social networks may help me identify certain interests (I am a soccer fan, I like to travel), they are less useful in exploring those interests to any depth.
As those uses of social networks are left unmet, other services are struggling to fill those niches. Part of the difficulty in doing this is the relative saturation that Facebook and MySpace have achieved (in the US) for users likely to sign up for social networks. This leaves upstart competitors trying to establish new ways of getting their social networking services out. One method, currently adopted by Visible Path, is to understand a social networking service not as a "destination," but rather, as a service that can be accessed from other business applications. This effort has the benefits (to Visible Path) of broadening the points of access that a user might have to its service and (to the user) of providing access to a social networking service from within the context of applications or websites they are already using. Visible Path CEO discusses this approach in a blog post on that company's blog. While this isn't a new approach, (as social networking has long been a feature of many community/bulletin board web sites, and LinkedIn and Facebook are opening up there networks to external development) it will hopefully be a successful gambit in introducing users to a service with some differentiating value (and with the caveat that, as mentioned, I formerly worked at Visible Path).
A different approach to introducing a new social networking service to the market is being taken by Ning, founded by Marc Andreessen, which recognizes that most people have different aspects to their personality and may have wildly divergent interests. Ning allows users to start their own social networks, focused on whatever topic they choose, and then allows people to use their single Ning userID to join any network of their choice. The service is fairly feature rich, and has the obvious benefit of marrying the appeals of community and area-of-interest focused services to a single social networking platform. While I haven't used Ning extensively, I have been excited by the launch of Tripsanity on Ning, by my old friends CC, DC, and KP. Tripsanity is a social network focused on traveling for people with an adventurous spirit. It brings the sensibility of guides like Lonely Planet to an experiential and user-driven community, and is a cool way to plan a trip, be a voyeur on someone else's trip, or keep tabs on your globe-trotting friends.