A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Google+ could be the most significant product release in the history of social media. That declaration was based on my belief that this platform represents Google’s best — and perhaps last — chance to offer Facebook any competition in the social networking arena.
That may have seemed like hyperbole at the time. Now, I think it was a bit of an understatement.
The truth is, the fate of Google+ will not just determine whether Facebook continues on as the undisputed ruler of the social media realm. The winner of the impending Facebook-Google+ battle will essentially own the Internet for the foreseeable future.
The New Web Portals
That’s because social media platforms are quickly becoming the new Web portals. Facebook recently reported that half of its 750 million members visit its site every day. For many of these people, I’d venture to guess, Facebook is the first site they hit in the morning and the last one they check at night. And in between, they’re using it as an on and off ramp to the rest of the Web.
Twitter fulfills a similar role for some people, but Twitter, for a variety of reasons, is not built to compete head-on with a platform like Facebook. The real battle for control of the Web will be between Facebook and Google, with other networks like Twitter and LinkedIn finding niches within those two larger players’ ecosystems.
There may be room for two mega Web portals, particularly as Internet usage continues growing in emerging markets. Still, one company will have to settle for second place — both in terms of numbers of users and, more importantly, revenue.
If social media platforms truly emerge as users’ Web portals of choice, which I believe they will, it would seem that Facebook, with its already massive user base, has locked up the top spot in that race. That is not necessarily the case, however.
Facebook Has Flaws
Facebook clearly has flaws, starting with its seeming insensitivity to customer privacy concerns. Facebook’s ability to raise revenue hinges on its ability to funnel as much information about its users as possible to potential advertisers. But users are starting to balk at the hurdles Facebook forces them to clear in order to avoid sharing every detail of their lives with the entire world.
These shortcomings helped Facebook post the lowest customer satisfaction rate among social media sites in a recent survey conducted by ForeSee Results.
They also exposed a weakness that Google+ attacked directly by giving users the opportunity to organize their contacts in circles, giving them an easy way to be selective about information sharing.
Ease of use will be a major factor in the battle for Web dominance. You may recall that the Web didn’t become a mainstream communications channel until AOL made its debut. Tech industry insiders derided that platform as “the Internet on training wheels,” but it helped the masses get over their fear of exploring cyberspace and paved the way for the first generation of mega portals like Yahoo and Google.
Search Is Not Enough
As AOL began fading away, Google emerged as the dominant Web portal on the strength of its search engine.
Google is still, by far, the preferred search engine among Internet users. There’s a problem with that status, however. It’s like having people thinking about you only when they need something.
Meanwhile, Facebook has people longing to spend time with it from the moment they wake up in the morning. Statistics also show people are indeed spending more time on Facebook than on Google — or any other site, for that matter.
So, how does Google break up this seeming love affair that users have with Facebook?
It’s off to a good start by offering a platform that makes it easier for users to guard their privacy. That fact alone has generated a lot of positive buzz around Google+.
Google has a few other advantages, if we consider how social media platforms will evolve into true Web portals.
Picture this scenario: A group of friends is engaged in a chat session on their favorite social network when someone suggests they all go to a movie. One friend clicks an app icon in the corner of his screen, finds what times movies are playing at a theater where the entire group can easily meet. They agree to go and everyone signs off.
For that to happen, the movie locator app would have to be embedded in the social media portal. Google, with its Android Market, would have an easier time bringing that scenario to life.
The Coolness Factor
While technical functionality will play a big role in this competition, the winner may ultimately be determined by which platform captures the coolness factor.
Let’s face it, that is — and always has been — a major selling point in the tech world. Facebook trailed MySpace into the social media arena, but it wasn’t long before Facebook became the place to be, and MySpace all but folded.
Google had a similar history vis-a-vis Yahoo in the search space. Now, it wants to repeat that history in social media by overtaking Facebook.
Its strategy in launching Google+ — via an invitation-only trial period — lends an air of exclusivity to the product, which seems to have boosted its coolness quotient. The question is whether that quotient will rise or fall when Google+ is released to the masses.
If it rises, Google will indeed have a chance at overtaking Facebook and becoming the ruler of the World Wide Web.
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