Social networks come in many forms, though, and the least likely to take off is yet another Facebook that wants you to pour in every last scrap of your CV before you can use it properly. Instead, the next big social network is almost certainly going to be more along the lines of Twitter – not in terms of microblogging your life, but something that requires little effort to participate in.
A good example of a possible service is a restaurant finder tool, where you pull out your phone between courses, hit one of those magic thumbs-up/thumbs down buttons and then allow the service to use a mix of its own database and GPS to tally up the votes.
Microsoft is working on one at the moment called Vine, which is geared around sending alerts to friends and family. Google has one called Latitude, which uses GPS to blip your current location to people on your contacts list. These tools can succeed on a small scale, but the next truly giant service to take off – whether it's through an existing site or a brand new one – will be one that uses the data it's given to present relevant information rather than advertising and data mining.
It'll be the one where you can ask it for a good fish and chip shop and be told that your friends recommend this one, or that this particular person over here matches your tastes, happens to be single and is searching for someone like you. Right now, ideas in this vein this are mired in a swamp of privacy concerns, especially when a modern service does something that reminds people just how much information they've really given it.
However, things are already starting to change. The current net generation is growing up in a world where it's the norm to broadcast tagged party photos, lists of products, relationship updates and everything else under the sun – so it can't be long before the advantages win out.
The open alternative
One thing Twitter has taught us is that new ideas come in many forms. There's no reason that the next big thing has to be one all-consuming giant in itself. Something malleable that sits behind the scenes and enables the world to play with it could just as easily become a contender.
The web tends to be built on open technologies, which means APIs, SDKs and opportunities for anyone to build on a technology. Look at the Twitter homepage: it's dirt-simple. All the good stuff – the tracking tools, the searching tools, the hook-ups between it and other web services that we now consider part of the Twitter experience – was first bolted on by third parties.
This opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Maybe the next Google won't be another big service at all, but just tools and a database that anyone can plug into. Maybe it'll come from keen internet users directly instead of companies, in the form of some decentralised system such as BitTorrent or OpenID.
But we don't need to know exactly what it is to know that when it comes, it'll change the world. And whether it's search or social, free or commercial, we can't wait to see it.