Why Google may not win the Social war

(Foreword by Andy Mulholland, Global CTO, Capgemini) I was very interested by the views of a younger colleague – who therefore is more representative of the mainstream social networking – and I asked him if he would write a guest Blog piece. This is the result and I think it ought to encourage some really good responses. Here it is:

In the past few weeks, I have been spending most of my time reading, debating and challenging some popular wisdom around the future of the social networking scene. I would like to share some of my conclusions and ask for your reactions to my thoughts.

Microblogging site Twitter was one of them and I find it exciting. However, leveraging Twitter for business purposes provides a different challenge. My twittering for business quest got a major push when I read the story of how Southwest Airlines is using Twitter for customer service and brand protection. A bit of googling, got me further twitter success stories at companies likeJetblue, Fox Chicago and Comcast. Companies and users can very easily do a brand search on Tweetscan and create a feed for any new postings. Twitter is quickly becoming the place where conversations are exploding well before they even make it to mainstream blogs and companies are latching on. While Twitter is big in the US and Japan, it is yet to make much inroads into the UK, but looks like we are onto something and I would love to hear more stories.
The other thing I am keenly looking forward to is ‘Web Slices’ that make their debut with IE8 next year. While Microsoft has gone to great lengths to explain the whys and the hows, a simplistic view of Web Slices is to look at them as glorified mini-RSS feeds located inside the web browser real estate. So why visit the Facebook website, if all your friend’s status updates can be fed directly into your browser? Or Why refresh your ebay page, if a part of your browser is updated directly when the auction is updated. It is a simple idea whose time has come and I think it is the next evolution. My reasons are based on history. After Blogs, we had micro-blogging. The likes of Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku etc are taking the Internet to the next level of interactivity. Similarly after RSS we need micro-RSS technologies like Web Slices to make the Net more useful. I am sure once we have got used to web slices, we will wonder how we lived so long without it.

While the trend to become micro seems to be working fine, the other end of the spectrum is where things get a bit tricky. Most technology trends seem to find a flavour in trying to be Mega (or rather Meta). During the early days of search engines, when Altavista and Yahoo Search ruled the world; there was a brief period of Meta search engines – search engines that would parse your query to other engines and displayed the results. The theory of having such a search engine is sound and some of these still exist (Mamma.com, dogpile.com, search.com, metacrawler.com), but they have barely got out of the blocks after all these years. A similar grave yard can be seen in the Instant Messaging scene. IM fatigue gave rise to Meta or Multi-protocol IMs like Trillian, Gaim, Meebo etc which could consolidate your AOL, Yahoo Messenger and MSN among other. While such technologies have scored with early adopters, the success of these among the wider Internet user community is still debateable.

This sets me up nicely into the debate around OpenSocial from Google. While much is being said about what it can do, it is still very unclear on what it can deliver. The big stumbling block is the lack of Facebook in the OpenSocial movement. Also, at this stage OpenSocial is more ‘Open Widget’ rather than ‘Open Social’ since a ‘list of friends’ of one social network cannot connect with others through OpenSocial. OpenSocial does provide a platform for developers to port their widgets across networks. I think Google is unfortunately caught in the wrong place, since a move towards Open Widget does not provide too much end user benefit, but a move towards becoming a meta-social engine does not bode well with history. Will Facebook do to Google what Google did to other search engines? I guess we will wait and watch, but I am not giving up my Facebook account in a hurry.

As the whole point is the ‘social’ or people aspect it will follow the direction that we all choose to make happen, so I hope this will start a good debate on how you think the future will go.

(This was original posted on the Award winning Capgemini CTO blog on June 18, 2008)


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