Saul Hansell of the NYT has fleshed out a few threads on the expected strategy from Google and Yahoo on the social networking front. The two will take advantage of their massive numbers of email and personalized page users as a base for a social network.
Instead of creating creating a profile, friending people, seeing who are friends of your friends and generating and receiving a newsfeed, as in Facebook, you start with email contacts (a directory service with respondents ranked in some way), create a profile, crank up the social graph mutates, mash up with "my" and "i" pages and the newsfeed flows. And, let's not forget about the APIs for application developers.
Yahoo's Brad Garlinghouse was more forthcoming in shedding light on plans than Joe Kraus of Google in Saul's post:
“The inbox you have today is based on what people send you, not what you want to see,” Mr. Garlinghouse said. “We can say, here are the messages from the people you care about most.
Yahoo Mail will also be extended to display other information about your friends as well. This can be a link to a profile page, and also what Yahoo calls “vitality” –- updated information much like the news feed on Facebook. There could also be simple features that are common on social networks, like displaying a list of friends whose birthdays are coming up.
Kraus said, “It is much easier to extend an existing habit than to create a brand.” It's not clear what that means for Google's Orkut.
The challenge for Yahoo and Google is that Facebook, from the ground up, is a social network. The same could be said of MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, Xing, Ning and other social nets. Bolting a social network via an email directory or grafting social widgets onto a personalized portal page like MyYahoo or iGoogle is not necessarily a recipe for success.
Then again, one should not underestimate the creativity and will power of Yahoo or Google. Carving up the planet into social networks is a marathon, not a sprint, and it's not a winner take all scenario.