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Cisco Readies Social Network Jump

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Just what we need... more social networks?

While Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and others duke it out for dominance in the increasingly crowded social networking scene, Cisco believes we're still at an early phase when it comes to creating online communities.

And the networking giant is aiming to cash in.

During first quarter, Cisco plans to release its Eos platform for companies to set up community plays offering visitors interactive, personalized and social network-based experiences.

"Our goal is to create a real business," said Dan Scheinman, a senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Media Solutions group. "We'll be able to offer media companies a solution that's much cheaper than doing it yourself and hopefully we'll be more scalable than others."

Scheinman said the idea is to make content "relevant and exciting." For media companies and other content owners, Cisco said Eos would simplify the administrative experience of engaging audiences, and distributing and monetizing their content.

Speaking at the Consumer Technology Innovations conference here in Redwood City, Scheinman didn't give too many details about Eos, for which Cisco has made several acquisitions in the Web 2.0/social networking area.

He did say, however, that the NHL and NASCAR are already using the technology on their Web sites.

He added that he doesn't necessarily see Eos competing with MySpace and Facebook as much as expanding the market for online communities.

"In Facebook, you really care about who your friends are," he said. But, he argued, enthusiasts such as sports fans want a shared communal experience even if it's with people they don't know. On the NASCAR site, he said, one racing fan living in Guam commented on how great it was to connect with people sharing his interests.

As for profits, Scheinman said Cisco has a longer-term, "build it and they will come" plan for Eos.

"Today, community is not the hot spot of advertising," he said. But he added that there are many sites that haven't figured out how to profit from the highly valuable demographic audience they're attracting, and he thinks community ultimately could be the key to unlocking that value.

Comparing community sites to real estate, he said most of them are "more like North Dakota, but we think over time they'll be closer to Manhattan."

Scheinman heads Cisco's Web 2.0 effort, a group of 50 employees based north of the company's Silicon Valley headquarters in more media-centric San Francisco. Among his unit's areas of research are new revenue and ad alternatives, for which there seems to be a serious need in the content space.

For instance, he noted the recent announcement that Condé Nast plans to fold its venerable House & Garden magazine, which had some $20 million in revenue and a million subscribers.

Scheinman said he had been surprised the publication wouldn't move online.

"I asked around, and the answer I got was that there's no online equivalent to the glossy ad," he said, adding that there's a huge opportunity to create a better format or online ad type that is more appealing or compelling than what's in use today.