Cisco is buying the technology assets of Tribe.net, not long after acquiring Five Across. Reaction in the blogosphere has been a collective WTF. Why does a company that sells big iron routers want to get into social networking?
Cisco is being smarter than people realize. The future is about convergence — both horizontally across different kinds of networks and media, and vertically between infrastructure, applications, and content. There’s a bad way to do convergence, which is the vertical integration by network operators that Net Neutrality proponents are upset about. But there are also good, more open, ways to link across network layers and platforms.
Cisco gets this. It was ahead of the curve in putting intelligence into the logical layer of the network, adding quality of service, security, and other functionality to its routing platform. And now it realizes that users are increasingly going to use the network for social purposes, especially those involving rich communications and media. Seeing Cisco, or its customers, as ineluctably creatures of the network infrastructure layers, far removed from everything above, is excessively narrow, old-world thinking.
These deals may turn out to be too early, or too expensive, or the wrong team, or may fail for any number of other reasons. Don’t be shocked, though, if Cisco finds gold in social networks.