SportLobster and the rest are on a hiding to nothing in attempt to take on Twitter

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Back in 2012, Sulia was the 'hottest social network you've never heard of', at least according to Mashable.

"Ten million unique users have signed up in less than a year," the article read. "And several big-name investors have contributed some pretty hefty funding." Indeed, such was the early success of the social site which generates feeds of content based on specific content, either from users or 'experts' in their field (think organised, long-form Twitter), that they generated around $10 million in investment from mid-2011 to 2013.

In October 2014, Sulia announced it was shutting down.

The times are a'changin

A statement on their website now reads: "Our goal was to organize the best content from the best sources in thousands of categories, and we did it well. In fact, there were many many things that Sulia did better than any other platform. But we learned that those things weren't popular or lucrative enough for it to succeed as a business."

One reason that made Sulia stand out - although evidently not enough - was the fact that it paid a small amount for some of its 'experts' to post updates and then promote them, mainly through Twitter. One of the areas it seemed to target heavily was sports.

Sunday Times sports journalist Duncan Castles, who has almost 70,000 followers, was one high-profile user. The infamous transfer fantasist @IndyKaila,who has an inexplicable 215,000 followers, was another.

Sulia sprung to mind this week with the arrival of another service hoping to take advantage of the mad-cap desire amongst sports fans for news and syphon off users from Twitter; BreatheSport.

Gary Lineker, Gary Neville and James Anderson are amongst the high-profile stars to have been signed up to post to the site, which claims to offer its stable of celebs a 'troll-free zone' in which to offer their thoughts on breaking news and events.

It was founded by advertising type Barry Houlihan, while Tim Brooks, the former managing director at Guardian News & Media, and former England footballer Peter Reid are also on board.

"We wanted to bring that experience together in a mobile-first experience, as we recognise that global content providers and social networks have not yet brought order and structure to live sports debate," says Houlihan.

"We have been delighted by the response from celebrities to our vision and cannot wait to get the BreatheSport experience into the hands of fans around the world."

Same old, same old

Sound familiar? Well, it should do, because there are plenty of services out there trying to do the same thing with equally ambiguous mission statements. Kicca promises to take fans to the 'heart of the action' by, you guessed it, paying high-profile figures like Jamie Carragher and Mo Farah to post updates which they then promote through other social media channels. 

Former England international Michael Owen and Mark Webber have both invested in SportLobster who aim to do pretty much the same thing as their rivals. They seemingly have a bigger budget thanks to two rounds of investment which they've used to produce video content with its stars and lure in a handful of journalists to post too. Even Cristiano Ronaldo is involved.

Kicca, SportLobster and BreatheSport all have the same agenda; to lure users away from the existing social media behemoths and on to specific-subject only platforms. And it looks as though they've got some pretty big names to do their bidding too, although not big enough, in BreatheSport's case anyway, to mean they don't have to buy followers to try and portray the image of being popular.

Sport is a drug

The interest is certainly there; seven out of 10 of the top trending topics in the UK on Twitter in 2013 were sport related. 28.4 million global Tweets were sent during the New England Patriots' win in the Super Bowl on Sunday evening. Sports fans like to talk and share their opinions more than perhaps any other type of fan out there.

Sadly for those trying to exploit the demand though the premise seems inherently flawed, beyond the fact that there are few willing to log into an entirely separate site to hear the anodyne bleatings of Michael Owen or Jonathan Agnew. 

They all rely on a finite audience whose allegiance has already been pledged for a start - mainly Twitter - to promote their stories which already offers better, more varied and insightful updates. It doesn't help either that professional athletes just aren't that interesting, especially when they're coerced with cash to share their thoughts. 

Get the best on board

Journalists may be slightly different in that they have no allegiances to be fearful of to stop them over-sharing, but anything worth knowing is going in their publication first, and then on Twitter.

Twitter has been able to subvert that dynamic slightly by its sheer size and popularity. Journalists can break news on the site before stories are live online in the knowledge that it tacitly endorses their employers in the process. Even with that in mind, it still isn't powerful enough to break the old model, which gives the likes of Kicca even less chance of being a success.

"I would never put a story out there that I intend to use in the paper the next morning," The Times' Gary Jacob told GiveMeSport magazine last year. 'It hasn't got to the stage for me personally that I'm going to put a story on the internet if it's not going to come out in the paper that day."

SportLobster has around 1.5 million users, Kicca and BreatheSport have even less. Twitter has 284 million monthly active users, and even that's still a relatively small number compared to Facebook, who by comparison have around 1.3 billion users. 

The fight for users

A year after it floated on the stock exchange, the Wall Street Journal reported that investors were disappointed with Twitter's growth in terms of new users and the struggles they faced to attract new people. 

Essentially these new services are trying to gain users by presenting a new platform that offers less usability, and by parasitically taking users from somewhere that has historically struggled to generate new users itself.

SportLobster and the others say they're unique because they can group all the information about each fan's team in one place - however for that to become a success they need to alter a fundamental habit amongst users of 'surfing' between platforms which has been engrained since the birth of the web.

Equally, users who have more than a single interest (i.e. everyone) would need to download separate apps for each of them, which seems to defeat the point of 'having it all in one place' which is what Twitter already does now. The notion of 'come join all the cool kids over here' isn't strong enough to convince otherwise, neither is bombarding users with links.

History is littered with failed social networks and whichever way you carve it up, and the new wave of sport-only sites seems like an adventure destined to end up alongside Sulia.

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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