Domain-Specific Social Applications

I haven’t heard a whole lot about domain-specific social applications; most of the ones we’re familiar with attempt to serve a very broad audience. Most of the talk at SG FOO was about the world’s Facebooks, Flickrs, and LInkedIns–who of course were very well represented. All of these sites attempt to be something (in some cases, everything) to everybody.

But there’s another way to slice the pie. Last summer, my brother was in the hospital for an extended period. He and his wife created a CarePages account. CarePages isn’t all that unlike Facebook: it has a blog, a photo gallery, a message board, and “virtual gifts.” You can receive notifications via email (they don’t seem to support SMS). CarePages appears to be supported partly by advertising, though I would guess that the bulk of their funding comes by contract to the hospitals offering the service (in my brother’s case, Johns Hopkins).

What distinguishes CarePages from other social applications? There’s a lot more concern for privacy: all the pages are private, you read them by invitation only. (I assume they’re subject to HiPPA regulations.) There’s some limited support for communities, but nothing like Google Groups–possibly because of privacy regulations. There are some clever photo applications: for example, a “prayer circle” page where you can mouse over patient pictures to pop up their requests, and light a candle. (This is one of the few areas where you can see general patient pictures.) Not difficult to implement, but a nice touch for a hospital-oriented site.

I’m sure that there are lots of specialty social applications; I’d be surprised if they don’t already exist for Real Estate. Dopplr arguably qualifies as a “vertical market” application for travel–though it’s really not the sort of application I’m thinking about. I’d really like to see a private O’Reilly Twitter; or even Facebook as a corporate address book (hmm, isn’t that essentially how Facebook started)? What features would social applications have to add to serve specialized communities?

Web developers have created a lot of value by opening things up, by making communities broader and broader. But value can also be created by closing things down, by serving narrower and more specific communities: the family and friends of a specific hospital patient, the attendees of a particular conference, the employees of a particular company. Does the idea of social applications for specialized communities enable new economic models for electronic commerce?