Why social browsing as a startup idea needs to die

Another day, another new social browsing service. Mashable reports on the launch of Socialbrowse, a Y Combinator funded service that offers social browsing. Despite Doriano “Paisano” Carta arguing (and I don’t know how) that somehow this is a “unique” service, it’s not even close. It’s yet another entrant in a space that goes back to the first web boom, and has had so many entrants I nearly crashed Firefox with the tabs I had opened on just the ones I could find that have launched in the last two years.

For those not familiar with the idea, the general theme of social browsing services is to offer shared surfing and sharing. That might be delivered by a plugin, or be native to the site, and it may or may not included a friends list or broader community recommendations. Often there’s a live element, so you view the same page at the same time as a friend, and lately that’s included a chat functionality as well…and I may have even seen one that included video.

Not all social browsing services are the same, and some are better than others. Me.dium is fairly impressive, and I had a play with Browzmi earlier this year. Although I didn’t write about Browzmi, it was only due to my inability to not completely trash the underlying idea, even if the implementation (which didn’t involve a plugin) was solid.

With Socialbrowse, the only point of differentiation I could spot is that they’ve copied Twitter and added microblogging to the list…because the world lacks microblogging sites, or something like that.

YooNo, a Cluztr or Swarm may result in a Reko, but a Me.dium to well done Slingpage delivered in Browzmi may compete with Flock, but Thatsmymouse isn’t half a Ginza Walk, and even eBay is trying to flog Stumbleupon. PS: that’s only the recent list.

At its root, the idea of social browsing, particularly at a time social networking is more popular than ever and we connect in new and different ways, should be a good idea, at least so you’d think. And yet, StumbleUpon and Flock aside, both of which don’t embrace the shared surfing/ buddy experience typical in many of the others, there hasn’t be a major break out in 10 years. The reality is, people don’t want to surf webpages with other people, not at least in large enough numbers to sustain one of these startups, let alone dozens. Social browsing services are chasing a market that on the whole doesn’t exist beyond a niche play, and most of these services are not going to make it.

What I do find staggering though is that new ones keep popping up, and better still with funding. Are VC’s so bereft of investment ideas that they continue to back one of the oldest ideas in the playbook over and over again? Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

Social browsing as a new startup idea needs to die. There may room for a small, unfunded startup to sustain something close to a real business, or one or two slightly bigger player from the existing services, but for everyone else, there isn’t room at the inn. Many may have chuckled at the 4th or 5th social browsing startup, but now it’s just getting plain stupid. Enough! Please! :-)