It’s no secret that Google has been throwing some mud at the wall to see if they can gain traction against Facebook on the social networking front. Namely, Google Buzz which wasn’t a huge success and I’ve been skeptical of Google’s ability to compete against Facebook’s gravity. All of my friends are on Facebook. Plus, Facebook has all of our photographs. That’s a lot of eggs in the Facebook basket. While its possible that we may one day spend less time chatting with our friends and more time working, Facebook is going to have to make a pretty serious mistake for us all to leave. According to their policy, they actually own them.
Google’s recently launched Circles network has me intrigued though. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a great Mashable article that links to some of Googles explanatory videos.
Paul Adams created a very clear presentation about the flaws of existing social networks (ie Facebook) while he was at Google. It explains the importance of privacy to the user. It also explains why the term ‘friends’ is not helpful. In short, he contends that ‘friends’ is too broad and doesn’t allow users to categorize their message by audience. The presentation has been viewed a whopping 670,000 times on Slideshare.
Facebook has a vested interest in complete openness. The network’s model turns on connecting the whole world. They are unapologetically pushing the bounds of individual privacy. As a result, there has been a lot of high-profile resistance to complete openness both publicly and from government watchdogs.
Privacy, and the ability to control it could be Facebook’s Achilles Heel. This is why i’m intrigued by Circles. It’s the biggest weakness in Facebook’s model. At Think!, we believe in the power of passionate communities. These communities center around a common interest and can be simply represented using concentric circles. We don’t believe that the world is one big circle. That’s the old world. We believe that it is one big circle made up of many, many much smaller circles. In these small circles, relevant information is essential and giving people the power to control their message is paramount.
Google Circles lets you categorize people on the way in and on initial appearance its very intuitive and smooth. Facebook Groups goes a little way towards solving the problem. However, many of the privacy settings are well buried, presumably so that people don’t use them. Circles is the complete opposite.
Of course, given their momentum, Facebook could always copy the idea. Interestingly, since he released his presentation and released his book Social Circles, Paul Adams now works at Facebook as their research lead on social.
Your social graph is an online representation of your real-world connections. Your graph is made up of all of the people you know (Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections) and organizations you do business with (businesses that you ‘Like’).
Many commentators believe that in the near future, a consumer’s social graph will be much more valuable than search engine ranking. The reason is that the recommendations that we receive from people we are connected to in the real world are more relevant to us than search results from engines like Google that are ranked using the wisdom of the crowd.
My friends know me and understand me. They know what I like. They are familiar with my past experiences. Facebook is just a convenient platform with which to connect with them.
I know precisely which members of my social network to ask for advice on whether to buy a Macbook Pro or a Macbook Air, which skis to rent or where to stay when I visit Argentina. Asking people I trust saves me time.
Do you trust your friends more than Google’s search results?
Following in Yahoo’s footsteps, Google has announced the results of its annual Zeitgeist report, revealing the most popular search terms of 2010.
After analyzing billions of searches performed in 2010 they came up with several lists that break the search terms into 12 different categories. Of course Chatroulette, the iPad and Justin Bieber were the three fastest-rising search terms in 2010, but Twitter and Facebook followed close behind, at numbers eight and ten.
The iPad emerged as the search winner in the consumer electronics category, followed by the iPhone 4, Nokia 5530, HTC EVO 4G and Nokia N900.
Under the news searches category, Haiti proved the most popular, followed by the Turkish sports club Besiktas, Chile, “earthquake,” Lady Gaga and the iPhone 4. Oddly the Gulf of Mexico oil spill only ranked 10th.
By far our favourite part of the video was at the 2 minute mark where Google video chat calls South Africa and all you can hear is Vuvuzela’s.
Google indexes every web page on the internet using a crawler that scans the contents of each site. When you use Google to search for something you often receive millions of results. Its too much information to process so the search results are presented in order of what Google thinks will be most relevant to us. They use our IP address to determine our location and then figure out what most other people in that area clicked on after doing the same search.
Most users rarely click beyond the first page. For years, websites have been vying for the top positions through search engine optimization. Google makes money by selling featured space at the top of search results.
Facebook have created the ‘Like’ button that can be installed on other websites. When a website owner adds the necessary code, they are effectively indexing their content for Facebook. When a Facebook user clicks ‘Like’ on a third party website, their friends see it in news feeds.
Now friends also see it when they use the Facebook search box.
Social search results are far more relevant. Humans tend to surround ourselves with people who are similar to ourselves. The content my friends are interested in is nearly always going to be more relevant than what the general population likes.
Google has realized this and are now displaying some social search results.
The only social network that Google have in which to base the social search results is their ‘Buzz’ and other open social networks, like Twitter. Facebook now has 571.5 million active users. The ‘Like’ button was installed on 350,000 websites as of July 2010. According to Social Beat, Facebook is serving up to 3 billion Like button clicks per day.
Can Google really compete with Facebook on social search or is it a case of too little too late?
Facebook recently released its ‘Places’ product that allows for mobile check in at real-world locations. When you go to a store or bar you can post a status update that includes your location. Twitter has the same functionality.
Google obviously wants to be a big player in the mobile check in space but they seem to be one step behind. Rumour has it that Google are about to invest heavily in millions of mobile devices that they are going to distribute to businesses for free. These devices are said to allow customers to check-in to locations, write reviews and possibly even pay for purchases via Google Checkout.
Let’s say each device only costs $100 to design manufacture and distribute. That’s 100 million dollars. If they make 8 million of these as some people suggest, that’s 800 million dollars. If they cost more than $100, we’re talking about a billion dollar exercise. Google is currently valued at just over $150 billion USD. If the information is credible, that’s a lot of money to be throwing around.
Are businesses owners going to be interested in another device to learn how to use and find time to manage? What’s in it for them? Are Facebook users going to be persuaded not to use their existing mobile devices?
Facebook’s US-based traffic has caught up to Google’s.
That graph comes from hitwise.com, although alexa.com is incosistent, ranking Google above Facebook. What is more important to your business is the trend. Google’s growth is much flatter than Facebook’s. There is a clear shift. The social graph is the fast becoming the center of the web, not search as was originally the case.
The amount of search traffic Facebook caters too has increased too though. This could be attributed to the lance round of product changes where they featured now that the search box front and center. Facebook has surpassed 450 million users and it’ll be very interesting to see statistics on average time spent on the site since the Log out button was hidden at the bottom of the Account tab.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that chat is slowing down my Firefox browser. I think crippling is a much more accurate description. I’ve noticed a number of issues with Facebook since their last product update. These errors are also apparent on the application platform. Managing the scale of growth that Facebook is experiencing, not to mention the 450 million monthly users, must be a technical nightmare. Don’t overlook that Facebook is the largest photo sharing site in the world.
There is somewhere in the realm of 3 million Facebook Fan Pages in the USA. The platform can help organizations cost effectively achieve numerous marketing goals through advertising, viral campaigns and a unique presence. There’s solid evidence from a Rice University study that Fan Pages can increase sales. Facebook’s Open Graph updated is going to make the network even more relevant to businesses and external websites.
Privacy issues. Openness vs protection. Google buzz. Most importantly, reliability and platform stability. Chat is crashing Firefox regularly and I know I’m not the only person to complain about this problem. The developer platform is also frequently experiencing regular problems.
Facebook either are or are about to be running the largest website in the world. The site has to manage massive growth across every area of their platform. At the same time Facebook must juggle user-privacy with openness and competitive threats from sites like Google Buzz. It’ll be a fantastic challenge. Regardless, as of this writing, Facebook has the gravity and will have to make a huge mistake to lose now.
Previously, I’ve written about the implications of Facebook’s closed networks for Google. Google’s web crawler can’t access Facebook Profile’s that are private (which is most of them). That means that tools like Google Search and Buzz can’t index these pages and can’t display their content in results. This wouldn’t matter too much if Facebook were small but it now has 400 million users and is still growing quickly. That’s hundreds of millions of profile pages that Google can’t access and many more status updates each year that Buzz can’t display.
Facebook realize that they must become more open. In the latest series of changes to Facebook, you’ll notice that the ‘Logout’ function is no longer prominent in the top right hand corner of the page. It’s now hidden within the account menu. My guess is that this change was made in the hope that users stay logged in to Facebook. The result being that when you browse the web, your Facebook account comes with you. When you’re browsing a third party site that makes use of Facebook Connect (and soon Open Graph), the site administrator knows who you are. You’re also able to share content back to Facebook streams very easily.
Facebook must carefully balance their transition to openness for two reasons. Firstly, there’s an uproar among users every time Facebook meddles with their privacy settings so they have to be careful to protect users. Secondly, and more importantly, as Facebook becomes more open, they let go of a little more of their competitive advantage over Google. Openness allows Google to crawl the site and display contents in the search results. Facebook Fan Pages (maintained by organizations rather than individuals) are inherently open to the public rather than protected behind secure networks. Google can display these pages in search results and they typically rank quite highly due to Facebook’s heavy vollume of traffic. Google Buzz can display status updates from these pages. Mashable wrote an article explaining this well.
This fine dance between openness and privacy is going to be fascinating to witness.
Welcome to Buzz
Buzz is a new way to share updates, photos, videos and more, and start conversations about the things you find interesting. You’re already set up to follow the people you email and chat with the most.
You’re automatically following 14 people. View and edit
You’ll see the buzz they post.
13 people are already following you. View and follow back
They’ll see the buzz you post.
Your Google Reader shared items, Picasa Web public albums, and Google Chat status messages will automatically appear as posts in Buzz. To edit your connected sites or change privacy settings, view connected sites.
I see a few problems here already. I’m only following 14 people here but I have 700+ Facebook friends and I’m very selective. I don’t use Picasa. I put photos on Facebook when I want to share them, I can tag people who are in them to send automatic emails and the same thing happens for me.
The biggest problem is this, Google Buzz cannot aggregate my friends’ Facebook Status updates because peoples Facebook networks are usually private.
Yesterday I wrote about some of the ways that Facebook could and are making headway into Google’s territory. One of the things I mentioned was Facebook having recently hired Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail.
It looks like there could be some truth to the rumours going around about Facebook preparing to launch Project Titan, dubbed as the gmail killer.
Facebook now has 375 million active monthly users. People spend an average of 30 minutes a day on Facebook. Users are on the whole, very comfortable with the Facebook inbox.
Gmail has some pretty nifty features. It’s extremely intuitive, has a killer search function and it has great spam filters.
Both have built in text chat. Gmail has video and voice chat.
All of my friends are on Facebook. Facebook’s network system helps me to find friends through my friends. Gmail doesn’t help me find my mutual friends emails. This alone should see Facebook get the upper hand over time.
Transition takes time but Facebook’s system of networks, combined with their use of peoples’ real names will put them in a very strong position.