Cisco’s wrong bet on Social Networks

A few months after switch-and-router maker Cisco Systems acquired a content-management start-up, Five Across, the San Jose giant is going to acquire the assets of, an early social network, reports The New York Times. Cisco, is clearly experimenting with social networks, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be successful.

Social networks and Cisco pairing is as odd as the relationship between Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, aka Fembot and the Freak. That didn’t work out, and neither will this.

“The idea that Cisco is going to be a force in social networking is about as plausible as Ning being a force in optical switches,” Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Ning, a Palo Alto-based social networking company told the New York Times. Aptly put! (Read: Ning: let 000s of social networks bloom.)

“Part of our job is to form a relationship with media companies and deliver technologies and services to them, so consumers can consume what they want online,” Dan Scheinman, Cisco’s M&A head honcho, who know the Media Solutions Group, tells the Times.

It is a bit of a head scratcher: What media companies does Cisco have a relationship with? Last I checked they sold equipment to large corporations, cable companies and phone companies? And those guys – they can’t even get people to use their email!

If cable operators and telecom are the “media companies” then they are the antithesis of cool, and social networks thrive when they are cool. Media companies and service providers aka incumbents want control – Social networks thrive when there is no control, and the community is allowed to mutate.

News flash for Cisco: This social software thing – it is too marginal, doesn’t make money and can’t make you cool. Stick to what you know best – plumbing hardware –sell tons of it, make money, and learn to live with the fact that you are rich and old school.

Don’t make me bring up pesky issues like: that in last ten months the only optical contract you have announced was an agreement with National Lambda Rail, and we can’t take that seriously, because as NLR annual report notes: the equipment was “provided under very favorable pricing by NLR’s founding member, Cisco Systems.”