But social networking is not an inherently new idea. It merely graphed traditional networking onto the Internet, which applies an amplification effect to pretty much any trend it touches. That amplification effect gave rise to sites such as Myspace, which thrives on teenager’s and young adult’s needs to be popular. But sites such as Friendster and LiveJournal were doing social networking long before Myspace appeared on the scene.

The last piece of the Web 2.0 toolset are wikis. Wikis allow anyone to edit the content found on a group website. The most famous example is, of course, Wikipedia, an attempt to create the group-think equivalent of a traditional encyclopedia. Large scale wikis however, such as Wikipedia, are far and few between. Most wikis are used internally by companies and organizations to allow for the quick and easy exchange of information and ideas asynchronously.

Clean interface design, more responsive online applications and other ingredients of typical Web 2.0 websites are icing on the cake. None of that stuff matters to the ordinary user if you don’t have something of value to offer them.

Tools, People… You Need Something More

With such Web 2.0 tools firmly entrenched, any new company or startup naturally looks to these kinds of ideas to integrate into their offerings. But tools, whether they’re Web 2.0 or anything else, usually cannot be the core of what makes you unique. Anybody can add or put together a bunch of tools for people to use (e.g., “Start your own blog! Save your photos on our server! Answer endless questions for free!”). What the next generation of online companies must add is something of value to the picture beyond the mere tools. And, while doing so, they must also go beyond the expectation that hoards of people will happily do all of the heavy lifting for them for free, forever. Too many business models today rely on exactly that model and, without careful nurturing and attention, such delicate models will fail.

Online communities, home to tens of millions of Internet users already, are the original “user-generated content” sites. But nobody starts off a new company with the idea that, “Hey, all we need to do is open up a forum and that will be our business!” There has got to be something more substantive to the business.

Trendy companies and websites like YouTube, Myspace and Flikr didn’t just take an existing toolkit and repurpose it – they created new technologies or interfaces that exposed existing technologies in ways that were extremely appealing to people. YouTube, for instance, was not the first video-hosting service online. But it was the first to make it so easy to publish any video you have to their site that even a 5 year old could do it. YouTube would’ve failed miserably if they instead relied on prepackaged tools to allow for video uploads. Myspace wasn’t the first to allow anyone to have their own homepage, but it was the first to show the connections between people’s homepages and interests in a way that folks found interesting and useful.