Social Networking 3.0 // Reading for Rebels

Santa Monica Stairs. Meet me there, if you dare.Lately I've been listening to a lot of podcasts from Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series. Especially since I use iPhone's double-speed playback feature, this is a great way to pick up insights and ideas quickly during my morning work outs. Today I hit the Santa Monica Stairs and popped in Social Networking 3.0, a panel discussion about the future of social media hosted by Forrester Research's Charlene Li, and featuring top execs from MySpace, Facebook, Ning, etc. A bunch of people you'd hope know what they're talking about. Here's what I learned:

1. Now might be a great time to launch a social network. None of these people seem to have much of a clue about what's around the corner, as evidenced by the first question. Something about what social networking looks like in 5-10 years. A dumb question? Maybe, since we all know the world is ending on 12/21/12, per the Mayans and Roland Emmerich. Nonetheless, all but one of the panelists took this question to mean "tell us about your site's current features and strategy for the immediate future."

2. As I've said before, conferences suck. Or maybe just this one, since in general the podcasts have been pretty good, some excellent. Everyone spent a lot of time defending their business models. It's like listening to five people conduct simultaneous job interviews. The point is to teach us something, not show us how smart you are.

3. Content is the future. Or the present. Whatever, content is important, and becoming more important. I think I may have mentioned that today's social networks don't qualify as brands, and that this is a problem for them. We consumers need to rely on strong brands to help us spend our time, attention, and money wisely. A couple of the panelists agreed that the future of their business — and possibly yours — depends on presenting the audience and advertisers with compelling content, whether that's user-generated or pro. Get that part right and you may just have a business.

Stay tuned for my reviews of some of the other podcasts, or meet me at the Stairs and we can argue about it in person.