If you listened closely enough to Facebook's rollout of video chat with Skype to the press you would quickly surmise the subtext to the powwow. The theme: Social networking is becoming about quality experiences and being a platform. In other words, the user land grab was so five years ago. Therefore, Google+ is so five years ago.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the unveiling of the Skype partnership with a bit of a lecture on social networking. Social networking is at a crossroads in its evolution. "There's a clear arc, where the world generally believes it is going to be everywhere," said Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg showed some nifty slides on how Facebook was enabling connections between its 750 million users.
At some point, everyone on the planet will be connected to a social network. The trend over the next five years will be about building on top of this social network, according to Zuckerberg. Best in class music, gaming, search and communication services will be built on top of social infrastructure. These services will be inherently social.
Notice what Zuckerberg did here. First, he notes the land grab is over. Subtext: Just give up Google. Then, he talks services on top of a social graph. Exhibit A: Zynga. Exhibit B: Skype. And then he downplays 750 million users as a hedge just in case Facebook growth slows and Google+ makes some headway. Note that Facebook growth is already slowing in developed markets.
The general theme is that Facebook rivals will be stuck in the amassing users stage. While rivals are trying to grab users, Facebook will be onto the next big thing: Being a social app platform.
It's a worthwhile strategy for Facebook, but there are a few flaws to the premise. For starters, Google has billions of users and Google+ is the real deal. I've been on Google+ for roughly a week and it's the most credible social effort from the company by far. I never understood Wave and was turned off by Google Buzz in minutes. Google+ is actually keeping me interested and the mobile integration with Android is stellar. Granted, some of this may be Google+'s approach to friends---it's easy to categorize them into various Circles. For someone who has a mess of a Facebook account and no patience to fix it, Google+ represents a handy do-over.
What's unclear is whether it's really game over in Facebook's favor. Google's angle into Google+ is Gmail. You see your account and there's a little box of notifications. That integration keeps you on Google properties longer---probably the real goal anyway. Google photos and other properties are also nicely integrated with the search giant's social service. When Google+ opens to the public it will grab a lot of users. Here's what Google has to work with to bolster Google+ according to comScore data:
- 222 million unique visitors to Gmail globally;
- A 38 percent of U.S. smartphone subscribers---another 28.9 million people---via Android, which is integrated with Google+;
- 180 million unique visitors a month to Google properties in the U.S.
- Toss in users of services like the soon-to-be-renamed Picasa and Blogger and Google+ integration abounds.
Add it up and Google can go through the social land grab phase very quickly. The company won't land 750 million users overnight, but 150 million won't be all that surprising. The big question is whether Google+ retains active users and bolsters sharing on its network. The interface is there, but others have noted that it's unclear whether folks will simply jump from Facebook.
Zuckerberg's job: Give customers a reason to stick with Facebook over the long haul. Over the next five years, Facebook has to continue to acquire users, give them social applications that delight and increase usage as a platform. Google is already a platform in many areas, but has to connect the social dots. If Facebook can box in Google it will have a nice head start on the next five years. Consider Facebook's strategy to be a nice mix of offense and defense.
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