The social network companies just left the stage at Demo 2008. Looking for inspiration from the group, I got this: The future of social networking will belong to companies that leverage the implicit, or derived, "social graph." I do not think that companies that are trying to create new online communities (from the Demo companies: iLeonardo, HubDub, AtlasPost) will own the future.
However, companies that divine the social network from what is already online are on to something. In that group there's Delver, which I reviewed last night, and these two interesting companies from the Demo session that just ended:
YouChoose: This company has just built a talk back widget for blogs. What's interesting about it is that instead of just running a comment thread for a blogger, it collates the discussion from other blogs and sites. It brings together sparse communities and can help make them richer and more active.
I have some issues with the YouChoose concept--in particular, bloggers that use it won't have a tight link to their commenters--but the idea of automatically creating groups around content is powerful.
Redux: This is a smart idea. It's a matchmaking site (for friends, not hookups, but that's really up to you). You tell it who you are and answer questions about your interests, and it recommends people from its network that it thinks you will like hanging out with. It can also suggest events you will both may like. It even has an "entourage" feature that groups recommended friends into posses and suggests events for all of you.
The key difference here is that you don't have to start by building your network. It kind of does that for you.
Redux is a membership site, which is not ideal. You have to join it and tell it about yourself, and it matches you with people also on the network. But I don't see why the idea can't be extended to scan existing social sites and profiles (assuming they open up) to match people even if they're not on the same social site you are.
People are getting social network fatigue. There are too many social sites and they are too different. It takes too much time and effort to manage your online relationships. The companies that figure out how to leverage online content and help manage your relationship data for you are the ones that will own the next phase of online social networking.