What defines social connections online? When you exchange details information not everyone else has access to and have the possibility to communicate, you have some form of connection with another person. But this is already the case with a lot of services, beginning with LinkedIn and XING and including address-books as found in most e-mail services. I would not define this a social connections, because I believe that social connections are defined mainly by the communication you do with other persons.
In my definition, only a few services fit in. Those, that most fit in are obviously Facebook, Twitter and Google+, because you instantly communicate as you login, when you see the newest posts that others have written, and additionally usually always communicate when you do anything with the services.
Who will survive?
All other services, be it the business contacts networks, specialized networks for other specialized groups as well as forums and the like of not-arrived-in-the-present-services, will over time perish, as the big three technically replaces them and it’s just a matter of time till people won’t pay for business networks and instead have their business connection in one of the other big three. The nature of those big three (although Google+ is not even a week old, I would call it one of the big three) is competitive, as they more or less all do the same thing.Beyond competitors, the metagame can be analysed. This is an old term from the time I played Magic – The Gathering, where always approximately three top strategies were around and you could outweigh their respective pros and cons, as well as which strategy won against which other strategy.
Facebook does most, as it tries to be the one service to rule them all. Broadcasts, bookmarks, instant messaging, video, pictures, games, apps, interests, groups, and soon even videochatting? Check this for Facebook. Additionally, it has it’s own ad-system, product and company offers and even it’s own virtual currency. It is omnipresent and the strongest of the big three if you take into account that even your parents might be using this service. The usual homepage was replaced by a facebook-profile, and even usual websites begin just updating their facebook-page instead of their own HTML-website. Facebook as compelling support for 3rd party apps and native clients on all platforms – some smartphone even have a facebook-button built in their hardware.
Google+ tries to battle Facebook’s overwhelming power with a different approach. More configurability with circles gives you the power to share stuff only with that group of people you want to share it with and additionally, you can explicitly only read certain updates, for example those of the people you put in “Interesting People”. Additionally, it’s white and clean and not filled with ads and distractions like “have a look at the latest pictures of Adam!”. The other services like Google Talk, Youtube and Picasa are all well-included for good. “Sparks” is like a newsfeed for everything tagged with the tag you choose and the new hangout feature is a fantastic killer for IRC and Skype. As the service is really young, it’s missing all the native clients that could be used to get notifications and relies on it’s web interface and e-mail for notifications only, which is certainly going to change soon.
Twitter is the most minimalistic of those services and only focuses on communication only without all the other crap attached. It’s communication is mainly broadcasting and limited to 160 characters, and it has a rudimentary direct messaging service and simple bookmarking (‘favourites’) included. It has clients on every platform and is deeply integrated into iOS. It’s the most used link-to service, if you look at the various news articles that show stuff like “tweeted by 300 persons, shared on FB by 53 persons and +1′ed by 30 persons”.
This is the point where I predict which of the services won’t survive: None of them. This was the point in the metagame of Magic back then, the big three are the ones that remain and kill off all the other small services that try to do something else differently. Even if one seems dominant and/or has the best technology, the best system or the best philosophy, there’re always enough people that want to differ and use the not-best-alternative. And as a Google-Plus-API will go public, there will be enough plugins and services to feed your info into the other services, so that you can use your favourite of the big three, while the next person will use his favourite. Only one thing is sure: there won’t be any more competitors than the big three, as those three services do enough for everyone.