Social networks will be like air, in that they will permeate everything that we do online AND offline. We'll look at the underlying technologies that will make this possible, how it will evolve, and the business models that will support it.

Charlene Li, Thought Leader of Altimeter Group

This was a great video, from SXSWi 2009 which, believe it or not, actually took place a year ago. Hell, a whole year! That's donkey's in digital terms. I revisited it, to refresh what Charlene was talking about and to compare to trends that are happening right now to see if her view is being realised.

Firstly, Charlene talks about the reasons why social networks will become part of the very essence of our being. "Like Air", what a statement! The three things Charlene says will make social networks like air; Identity,  Contacts and Activities. These are the core things that make us social and what Charlene believes will make the inevitable integration of Social Networks a logical step, not the wishful thinking of network creators looking to make a buck out of becoming the "Facebook".

So how is this reflected in Social Networking a year on?

Identity - the ability to determine, as an individual, which "persona" we allow the public to see has developed to the extent that, through niche social networks, we can put on our different hats on demand. You're a gadget lover - you GDGT it, you're a movie lover - you Flixter it, you're a music lover - you Myspace like crazy, you are a professional - you are definitely LinkedIn and more relevantly, you're adventurous so you Fidgetstick it. You identify with one or any number of these social networks and so you create an identity that mirrors those networks values and culture. This is still in it's infancy, but we are seeing a global trend that this is increasing.

Contacts - Your contacts, the people you interact with in real or digital life, are a huge influence of your decision to join a new social network and keep returning to existing ones. You choose to or are persuaded to interact with certain people, whether professionally or personally, and by doing so you go to where those people hang out - special interest social networks. That's how we grow, we seek out influencers, celeb's, role models, mentors, investors, friends - relationships - that enhance us and enable us to achieve our goals.

Activities - We do stuff. We may not do enough of the things we like - it's a common fault, but social networks when applied correctly, are an enabler. Through networking we can meet people, companies, get information, receive benefits that can enable us to do more. As social networks grow, their ability to leverage influence over commercial enterprises empowers members to do more exponentially. This is a positive trend and a direct sign that social networks can be a natural way of life for positive people that look for enablers and opportunity to do what they want to do.

Charlene also talks about how the "aggregator" of these multi-faceted networks will evolve. We don't just go to a Facebook, or a Myspace, or a Friendster (remember the days...). No, we go to all of them with purpose. The aggregator Charlene was referring to is Facebook. Through Facebook Connect, the most pioneering social evolution mechanism I have ever seen, is the tool that has empowered network creators to fit seamlessly within the framework that is "Social Networking". And now we know where we fit in, it's easy to communicate with potential members - we're not having the "are you a new Facebook" conversation. We're having the "We are to {insert niche area} as Myspace is to Music" conversation. People get that and if you create a well branded, engaged and interested community, they will join.

Now, it's clear we're a million miles away from the "air-like" nature of social networks. There's much work to be done by Network Creators and advocates of the online social framework, but we are on our way. We've perhaps cast the lines and some very eager people are pushing the boat from it's moorings. Personally, I'm looking forward to getting the sails up and really opening her up.