Google+: The Anti-Twitter

We have all seen Google Wave and Google Buzz, and probably have concluded that Google won't be able to leverage its email-driven social graph through features.  They need to come up with thicker value and attempt to solve a problem, which neither Wave nor Buzz really did.

Enter Google+. At first glance, it looks like Google decided that the soft belly of Facebook is its rapidly diminishing context: bundling your college buddies, collagues, family and acquaintances together.  Add to that the very different usage of the platform in non-US geographies (read: primarily dating and mating), it seems very sensible to build a publishing platform to let you narrowcast content and online social interaction to carefully crafted buckets of relationships.  That's my read on Google+.

To me, this decision is very distinctive by the fact that it is exactly the opposite path of Twitter.  There must have been countless meetings at the Google Corporate Development group about Twitter.  For a while, Twitter looked like a fairly low-price ticket for Google to bolster its own social graph. However, Twitter's one-way, follow model must have not fit Google's strategy, seeing they are going in the opposite direction. Deep vs. broad.

I have not had a chance to use Google+.  I think the premise it holds out is interesting and valuable.  I do think there will be big pressure on the user experience for it to deliver its promise.  The smart grouping of relationships and the implicit extraction of context will ve critical.  I noticed that Gmail rolled out a people feature next to email messages that seems to work very well.  This is a technology challenge and that is not an area Google is weak in.

I am keen to see if Google will be able to turn its deep UX assets and talent into a seamlessly usable social sharing tool with Google+, or if it will join the list in the first sentece of this post.

UPDATE: Liz Gannes's post today is not too promising on Google's initial UX attempt.  Now I am more curious.

How Defensible is the Social Graph?

Facebook-Places-vs-Google-Places-300x225 I was about to retweet Chris Dixon's blog post on social network interoperability (@cdixon is one of the clearest thinkers at the abstract level on the connected economy), but then I decided it's probably worth a blog post.

If you read my blog, you'll know that I am a very big believer in the value of the social graph, or the identity layer of the internet.  As Chris points out, Metcalf's Law suggests that Facebook's lead here is so big that it's insurmountable by any of the aspiring players.  However, I think there's a subtle and very complex factor also in effect here.  And Chris Dixon identifies it as a potential cause to push FB into interoperability.

I think that's a very interesting idea.  However, if I were to bet, Facebook would continue to be extremely protective of its social graph data.  Why?  Because it's in its DNA.

Today, I got access to a web-based CRM-type application.  The app made me walk through a very simple wizard, and quickly got a strong sense of my social graph.  Gmail can probably do the same, just by looking at the emails Facebook has sent to me.  When you operate as a platform, even if you're trying to be protective, you are more open than you think.

So, I would like to reverse my position on Facebook's lock on the identity layer.  A truly open player (and I am not sure if Google Me is going to be that open), can strip the identity layer from Facebook (or vkontakte, QQ, etc.)  This will be a tough race, similar to the iPhone vs. Android battle we have coming up.  But in this case, open will have an even stronger advantage, thanks to Metcalfe.

Is a Single Social Graph Healthy?

Facebook-connect-intro Facebook has made a few very important announcements this week.  It is now clear that they see themselves as a part of the software backbone of the Internet, with a increasingly-dominant sign-on and authorization ability, the new, atomized "like" button, and promising ambitions in the location and payments areas.

And, as Albert Wenger points out, they have executed very well on this very ambitious path, continuing to innocate at scale.

However, there's something I find disturbing in the dominance of any one company, at the core of the internet, which itself, has so far avoided this type of dependence, maybe except in the case of google.  However, Google, in its most dominant search and advertising verticals, does not constitute a single breaking point for the internet.  Take away Google Search, and Yahoo or Microsoft have products that work almost as well.  Take away Google Ads, and… well, nothing maybe.  Probably a massive drop in traffic to many sites and a commercial problem, but the internet works just as well, perhaps better, in providing us with the utility we expect from it.

Conversely, today, nobody else has the social graph data that we now rely on Facebook to provide for us as a web service.  And now many new services are being built on this layer.

If you read this blog, you know that I find the social graph extremely valuable.  I suspect that the single company domination of the social graph is dangerous and may have a stifling effect on the development of value-added services on top of the identity layer.  The strength of the internet has so far been its openness.  Had it been a Microsoft net or an AT&T net, no matter how innovatively executed, the internet would have fallen way short of what it enables today.

What would the alternative be?  If Sun had made the move to own the social graph, it would have been more authentically open. So far, Facebook has been somewhat open, but there are commercial pressures around Facebook that will strongly motivate it to misbehave in its shepherding of the social graph.  I hope that does not happen.

PS. Albert also declares he does not believe in a single social graph.  I actually do. I think the problem he points out is one that can be solved with intelligent search/find and filtering.

Value of the Identity Layer – Payments Edition

Social-brand-identity Dave McClure has a fun recent post/rant on business models.  In it, he makes a simplification:

Well because as we transition to a Startup Ecosystem driven by direct
payment & subscription business models, i want to make it clear how IMPORTANT it is to make sure users don't forget their passwords.  If they forget their password, and/or can't recover it, then guess what MoFo — YOU DON'T GET PAID.

While I agree with his point, he then goes on to assert that the frequent-use models don't have this problem and therefore should win the transactions/subscriptions business models, which is where I start to get question marks.  He provides examples from his tenure at PayPal and concludes that since Facebook and Google are the most frequently used properties, this is their game to use.

I also agree with the last point.  However, I think it's a gross simplification to tie the causality to frequent use.  It's the identity layer that counts.  Not the frequency.  I play some casual games daily.  but they don't know about me nearly as much as Google or Facebook does.  It's that intimate knowledge of who I am that counts!

TBI Research is pointing out the revenue potential demonstrated by some recent data at Facebook through payments.  It's not surprising that the results are positive.  Payments are directly tied to identity.  PayPal is under huge threat here.  In fact, once the payment structures start to slip, eBay will be under threat as well. 

The identity layer is enormously valuable. The biggest contenders for it are Google (because of Gmail) and Facebook.  The identity layer will allow these companies, as well as those who will be able to grab a piece of it, to challenge some very large internet commerce areas.  Payments are a great candidate.  Others will be classifieds & listings, and loyalty programs.

I think there still is an opportunity in the Turkish identity layer, despite Facebook's domination here.  Not sure how one should play it but I continue to think about it.

Twitter & Google Starting to Date?

Googtw After yesterday's announcement of Yahoo intergating wih Facebook Connect, comes the news of Google and Twitter joining forces to allow Twitter integration with Google's Friend Connect.

John Battalle reads this as "Twitter, as in Not Facebook". On the opposite side, Marshall Kirkpatrick's take on it is "just like Yahoo bowed to Facebook, Google is bowing to Twitter".

I think I have a different view of this.  Despite the timing of both transactions, they represent different strategies to me.  Yahoo's move was a bow to Facebook, in favor of its users and the utility they extract from Yahoo, but eroding a strategic advantage Yahoo may have pursued through its massive reach.

Google's move, on the other hand, is less about bowing to Twitter.  Twitter knows surprisingly little about its users, whereas Google knows a ton – thorough clickstreams, search behavior and Gmail.  In fact, I'd say Google still owns a much larger chunk of the social graph than Twitter.  What Twitter is great at is realtime and declared interests.  And it's growing super fast.

This move by Google and Twitter makes me suspect even more my prediction yesterday.  This alliance will allow Google to observe how Twitter helps its users and evaluate Twitter as a potential acquisiton target.  It will also help Google to preserve some ground against Facebook, who has now clearly become the only contender to Google for ownership of the identity layer of the internet.

Facebook Eliminates One Rival in the Race for Social Graph Ownership

Rocky_victory Today's announcement that Yahoo is integrating into Facebook Connect must have been accompanied with the sound of champagne bottles popping over at Facebook's headquarters.  It's a big victory for Facebook as it advances towards ownership of the identity layer of the internet.

To be honest, I am a bit puzzled at the early concession by Yahoo.  I am fuly convinced that by now Yahoo sees itself as a media company.  It's obvious with its concentration on content.  But, it also has an enormous amount of data on users and, through Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Groups, a nice chunk of the social graph.  And I would have expected Yahoo to try to extract some value out of that.

What's weird is that Mashable is calling this:

"…a no-brainer for Yahoo, who has been trying for years to make its services more social on its own. Now, they’ll start to see some of the benefits that smaller publishers have seen from Facebook Connect (more comments, extra traffic from Facebook, etc.) on a massive scale."

That is ridiculous.  Yahoo is not a small publisher.  It's one of the first and greatest destinations on the internet.  It's got as much traffic as Facebook and more members (500m vs Facebook's 350m).  Why is Yahoo doing this?  And isn't it ironic that the announcement is coming from Jim Stoneham, who's responsible for Yahoo communities?

Om agrees with me and sees Facebook as the big winner and Yahoo as the big loser here, and compares this move to Yahoo's deal with Google in terms of magnitude.  I think this is actually a bigger deal. In search, Yahoo lost to Google's technology.  It did not have much chance against Google.  Whereas in this case, Yahoo's still got a ton of data (groups data, mail-related social graph, hotjobs-driven professional information, flickr's social graph, etc.) to be a contender in the identity layer game.

I expect the next move from Google.  Facebook's got a lot of momentum and Google can not watch this passively. I'd predicted Twitter being bought in 2009.  It was not.  2010 maybe?

Social Media Scamming

There is a long-overdue discussion (a few follow-on posts) that got kicked off by Michael Arrington this weekend on the topic of incentive advertising ecosystem that is supporting the hyper-growth social gaming industry.  I have not studied the details of the issue.  Nor do I click on the types of ads that he's talking about.  However, as a social media user, I am absolutely certain that there is not enough value created through this type of advertising models to justify the enormous revenues we are hearing that surround this industry. I am very happy that Mike has decided to tackle the issue.

The debate has reminded me of a very widely-known secret in the Turkish internet and mobile industries.  If you speak to anyone who was a player in the ring-tone/logo download mania we had a few years ago, they will confide in you that it was a common practice to get people to sign up for (usually) worthless services and charge them through subscription fees buried in thick fine print (and sometimes not even hidden, simply omitted).

The GSM operators turned a somewhat blind eye to this for a while, but recently, with government and customer pressure, they now seem to be doing an effective job at policing their ecosystem.

Clay Shirky describes social media as "anything worth spamming".  I guess we will go on seeing many versions of the type of scams that Arrington is pointing out, or the versions in Turkey I mentioned.  What is critical is those of us with a clear vantage into these issues need to bring them up with more rigor.