I never thought I’d come back to the blog after a two year, one month and nineteen day hiatus to blog about Tom, the awkward looking friend we all popped our MySpace cherry with. But I have, and with that said, I’d like to buy Tom Anderson a beer for providing some interesting perspective on Facebook, Google+ and the topic of social media innovation.
Before the July 4th weekend officially began, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the world that “something awesome” would be announced this week. After enjoying the weekend, Americans settled in for a short work week to promptly ho-hum Facebook’s unveiling of Skype video calling and advanced chat features.
The global reaction was equally unenthusiastic.
The insider reaction was harsh. CNet, PC Mag, online marketing blogs and news outlets comprised of connected people had little positive to say about Facebook’s “awesome” innovation. The reaction was a bit predictable though considering that Google+ just hit the scene with an exclusive invite-only social community.
On one hand Google drops invites off to thousands of highly connected technology insiders and rewards them with an entirely new, engaging social community experience. On the other hand Facebook takes one of their least appealing features in chat and tries to innovate it by adding a technology that has been available to everyone directly from Skype for years.
The Role of Exclusivity in Google+
Earlier I referred to “insider” reaction of Facebook’s new features. Insiders, for the purpose of this discussion, are the numerous authors on prominent technology websites that covered both topics from every conceivable angle. These are the people that (even outside of Internet marketing) are early adopters of social web services. They’re the ones that spend their lives online… After all, that’s their job, right?
With Facebook – the “new” video and chat enhancements were rolled out to the masses in an instant. Intense market saturation meant that the majority of people who can now use those features on Facebook are not all white collared tech insiders. They’re blue collared workers, construction crew members, grocery store clerks and students just looking to stay connected with the one large social community that all of their peers are using.
They’re not the users Google+ cared to attract at launch.
Now let me ask you one thing: If you could choose to be associated with a group, would you choose to be in a massive group of people with few common threads, or, choose to be among some of the most well connected and influential people in the technology sector?
Since you and I are both “connected” like those industry insiders writing about Google+ and Facebook’s flop, I’ll assume that most of us would choose to rub elbows with the likes of Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Michael Arrington and Matt Cutts.
In other words, we’d like to be alongside a few of Google+’s most popular members.
You may want to be connected to these people because of who they are, what they’ve accomplished, or maybe for the successes that they have accumulated in their professional lives. There’s something about the underlying exclusivity factor and a desire to emulate the success of these potential peers that’s too much to ignore.
Few tech insiders would ever feel excited enough to write about how they’re as connected as Esther Millward, who could be some 84 year old woman from Oklahoma City who does needlepoint when her arthritis isn’t flaring up. For this reason, there’s little fanfare for Facebook’s video chat services.
To help me illustrate this point more clearly, here are the top 10 users of Google+ rated by the number of followers they have:
- Mark Zuckerberg – 44,871 Followers
- Larry Page – 30,271 Followers
- Sergey Brin – 23,426 Followers
- Vic Gundotra – 19,693 Followers
- Robert Scoble – 17,109 Followers
- Matt Cutts – 13,761 Followers
- Leo Laporte – 11,852 Followers
- Bradley Horowitz – 10,392 Followers
- Markus Persson – 9,552 Followers
- Kevin Rose – 9,504 Followers
- MG Siegler – 9,409 Followers
- Gina Trapani – 9,194 Followers
- Tom Anderson – 6,734 Followers
- Jeff Jarvis – 6,392 Followers
- Kelly Ellis – 6,265 Followers
Some very familiar faces up there, right?
The kicker for me is that Zuckerberg is #1. Bonus points to MySpace’s former CEO Tom and his 13th place ranking. Other notables in the top 100 most followed include the likes of Marissa Mayer, Danny Sullivan, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Jason Calacanis, Chris Pirillo and Chris Brogan.
Okay… So, What About Tom?
It’s time to bring this back to Tom Anderson, the former CEO of MySpace and why I want to buy him a beer for his take on these topics.
It’s easy for us in search and the associated Internet related industries to write off Facebook’s announcement and hail Google+ as the next big thing. While that may well be the outcome from these two summer stories, here’s a healthy dose of broader reality that Tom served up (now available on TechCrunch):
“…lots of companies are going to build things like video chat, but Facebook competitors also have to build up their social graph first. Facebook’s job is to just keep innovating.”
It’s a very short comment but one that caught my attention immediately.
It’s easy for us in technology industries to assume that we’re the perfect case study for anything that is born online. The reality is, we’re not, and in my opinion, Tom’s position is one that we should certainly pay attention to.
When it comes to social communities, are there more than a few others more qualified to speak on the topic?
Before Google+ and Facebook ever hit the scene, MySpace was the social community for the masses. Since Facebook’s explosion began MySpace’s quick fall from grace has been well documented. Despite that media coverage, few people could be more aware of the struggles and challenges that took a company once valued at $12 billion (in 2007) to being sold for just $35 million (last month) than our old friend Tom Anderson.
For those keeping track that’s an eleven billion nine hundred sixty-five million dollar loss.
On the surface Tom’s quote may seem innocent enough. Taken in context though, it is clear that he offered his take while being supportive of Zuckerberg’s initial reactions to Google+.
After thinking about it a while I began to suspect that Tom was speaking on a topic that he wished he had known the truth about sooner, though. MySpace, for all of their success, did little innovating while at the top of the social world. That lack of innovation is what allowed Facebook to seize control with it’s simplicity and once exclusive membership.
The Future of Google+ and Facebook
The eventual success or failure of Google+ is already baked into the social network’s framework. I’m not suggesting that Google+ will fail, either. I’ve seen many people including Greg and Dave discuss their immediate admiration for the community as well as seeing some writing on the wall indicating that Facebook’s days may be numbered.
Those are both opinions that I certainly trust.
The only things I would suggest are that the make-or-break features that will propel Google+ toward it’s fate are cards that have already been dealt, and, that Facebook’s grasp of broad market share are the key to it’s longevity.
Google is known for their core search and advertising businesses. They’re also known for a host of products that die slow and painful deaths like Google Wave, Google Video, and most recently, Google Health. Could Google+ be the next in line, or is the exclusive, invite-only release (which follows in Facebook’s footsteps) something that suggests more precision?
For Facebook, will innovations like video chats be enough to keep people engaged? Facebook Places was initially discredited at launch, but more and more are using the feature and are jumping on board with it.
Perhaps we shouldn’t always be so quick to judge.