Nov 28, 2011

Facebook vs Google+: Cage Match

First, there was Friendster, which faded as fast as it hit the scene in 2002.  Then there was MySpace, created in 2003 by former employees of Friendster who saw the potential of the service and realized its grave weaknesses.  MySpace showed potential, especially after being purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 2005 for a paltry sum of $580M, and it seemed poised to become the dominate social networking site for our generation.  But then they both ... faded and died.  Now, Friendster is a social gaming site focused mainly in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, and MySpace was recently sold for $35M to a small group of investors, including Justin Timberlake.  So what went wrong, and is there another big shakeout looming between Google+ and Facebook?

I recently discussed with students at Coastal Carolina University the necessities for creating a sustainable business in today's rapidly evolving global business place.  One of the examples I like to use is Facebook.  How did Facebook survive and even go on to flourish in the social networking realm after Friendster and MySpace failed so monumentally.  I think the answer is in Vision ... setting its sights beyond a social meeting spot to becoming the social web's preeminent operating platform.

Indeed, most people see a social networking sight as an online place to meet friends, share pictures and log personal activity.  Simple, and if you believe the factual aspects of "The Social Network", Facebook started in just this way.  The problem is that our fickle attitudes and "culture of instant gratification" requires sites to provide constantly new and fresh content, otherwise we roam and find more interesting places.  Facebook evidently saw this coming (or learned from the slaughter of MySpace) and realized quickly that they needed to set higher goals.  So, they set out to become the social web's dominate operating platform by becoming integrating in every aspect of our life.  Thus far, they've done a remarkable job attracting 800M users ... without the ability to personalize your background (blue and white is so boring)!

And everyday, Facebook creeps deeper into our lives.  Don't believe me?  When was the last time you downloaded an app or created a profile for a news service by selecting "Sign On With Facebook"?  FB is becoming ubiquitous in cyberspace.  This is evidence further by a recent study by Sociable Labs and reported on TechCrunch.com, which shows just how Facebook has ingrained itself in our everyday internet usage.  The study shows that "50% of visitors to ecommerce sites were logged into Facebook ... using Facebook Social Plugins and Connect integration".  A Facebook spokesperson also confirmed that "88% of Internet Retailer Top 200 retail sites are integrated with Facebook".  That's incredible!

And Facebook is not done.  They have increased their appeal to businesses, going as far as to offer free "Bootcamp" seminars to teach small business managers to utilize the numerous FB features and tap into the immense FB database.  And, although the company boasts that its strategy is simple and focused on growing their core business, recent news (although not recently rumored) is that Facebook is creating its own phone through HTC.  According to AllThingsD.com:
"Code-named “Buffy,” after the television vampire slayer, the phone is planned to run on a modified version of Android that Facebook has tweaked heavily to deeply integrate its services, as well as to support HTML5 as a platform for applications, according to sources familiar with the project."
Whether you like the idea or feel it all could lead to the abuse of power, one thing is true ... Facebook is not going anywhere.

So the big question is whether Google+ has the power and prowess to unseat Facebook as the champion of the social web ... even if the helm is shortly held.  Google has the money, the power, the reach and the ability, but my bet is still on Facebook.  And, whether you like the perceived invasion of privacy or not, I believe that advances in online security, the growing popularity of the "cloud", and future generations openness and willingness to share information is the future of this business, and Facebook is already taking us there.   If you don't like it, disable your Facebook profile ... but good luck logging in to every online membership you have in the future!!