Narrowing Social Network’s Focus

If social networks are a numbers game, count MySpace and Facebook as among the big winners. These upstarts have attracted millions of users to their online communities. But the bigger, come-one-come-all approach these sites employ isn’t the solution every would-be online group wants.

At least that’s the thinking of Affinity Circles, a Mountain View, Calif.-based provider of private label “trusted social networks.” Affinity organizations both public and more closed social networks.

Affinity CEO Steve Loughlin said his company was able to leverage its experience with scores of university customers to provide a solution for membership organizations. “The interests are very similar,” Loughlin told “The members are looking for jobs, advice – what we call ‘high value transactions’.”

As with other social networks like MySpace, all members don’t know each other. “But there’s an extra element of trust when you go to a site where you know the brand and the community you’re dealing with,” said Loughlin. “Everyone is pre-qualified in the network.”

This week, Affinity announced it had added to its list of over 90 affinity-based organizations as customers for its social networking platform. Affinity says there are over 12 million members in the various networks combined.

The four new Affinity customers are the Asia America Multi-Technology Association, Committee of 100, Korea Information Technology Network (KIN) and the State Bar of Texas.

KIN is finishing up its testing and plans to launch its network later this month. Most of KIN’s 1,500 members are in Silicon Valley.

“We wanted to have a platform that would let our members interact with each other online,” Min Soo Kim, executive director of KIN, told “We’re expecting members to form subgroups, so where there is interest in a specialized field, like embedded software, they can share common interests and invite others to join.”

The State Bar of Texas has 80,000 members and will be creating its first online network. “We think this is going to a first among all the Bar associations,” John Sirman, Web manager for the Texas lawyer’s group, told “We like the fact that it’s a closed network and exclusive so our members can be confident they are communicating with other Texas lawyers.”

Sirman said would-be members will be prompted to provide their State Bar number and other identification. “The Affinity Circles engine has good administrative tools that lets us block or take care of any problems directly,” he said.

Analyst Ben Bajarin with Creative Strategies thinks there is definitely a place for private label social networks.

“This is meeting a need that the larger, more public networks won’t meet because it’s not on their agenda,” said Bajarin. “Since setting these up isn’t the core competency of many organizations, it’s a lot easier for them to look to an outside provider to create a walled garden experience for their members.”

Analyst David Ferris of Ferris Research said social networks are still a new field and many groups may feel more comfortable hosting their community with one of the dominant or better known players.

“The market will eventually settle out,” said Ferris. “There’s still a lot of experimentation. I think companies like Affinity Circles that can offer more specialized controls will be attractive to many groups.”

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