Quartz put together two analyses discussing both sides of a popular issue: why Facebook will succeed, and why Facebook will fail.
In discussing why Facebook is doomed, the following stood out to me:
Unlike traditional web search, which is something we often do when we’re looking to spend money, time spent on Facebook does not appear to be time when we’re particularly open to advertisers’ messages.
This tries to pin Facebook’s demise by pointing out a fundamental lack of purchase intent from Facebook users. I find this to be shortsighted.
Consider this, from Quartz’s counter-argument in favor of Facebook’s success:
“We made the decision to continue to grow our headcount quickly in 2013, particularly in product development,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
By investing heavily in “product development.” this means that Facebook is hiring some really creative, smart, talented and ambitious people to come up with news ideas for how we interact with Facebook. All of Facebook’s innovations that seem commonplace now (think of the Activity Stream) are created by people tasked with innovating on the Facebook experience.
I agree with the sentiment that placing an ad in my timeline would be disruptive to my experience of reading friend’s political rants, family photos and wedding announcements. But that’s based on the current model of how Facebook is presented to me. When Facebook launches Feature X — where X is something really cool that alters my perception of how to use the platform — that could change.
Furthermore, peer pressure is a huge motivator for purchase. What better place to put that peer pressure to good use but a place where people share and consume each other’s personal lives en mass? Don’t think adds, think organizational tools:
So the ads Facebook currently runs, and which make up its lackluster revenues, are just a sideshow—a first step into an industry of buying, selling, and planning that only Facebook is currently positioned for.
For me, the counter-argument in favor of Facebook’s success suffered by introducing comparisons to Google+, Google’s widely misunderstood “social” product:
But there’s a good reason why Google, the social network it launched publicly 14 months ago, still trails far behind Facebook. There’s not much you can do on Google that you can’t do on Facebook, and people don’t have much incentive to make the switch.
For better or worse, Google+ is a more complicated product that just a place to post cool links and share photos. Google intends Google+ to act as a kind of underlying, connective tissue that ties all of it’s service together. Google Ads aside, Google Search leverages a huge amount of engineering power to crawl the internet and interpret human search queries to provide results. Google+ is designed to eventually help you find what you want — sometime before you even need it! — based on who you are as a unique user.
This probably sounds totally creep, but Google seems well aware of this, and it’s their burden to get users to buy in without freaking them out.
Comparing Facebook to Google and Google+ suffers because Facebook’s suite of products is different. It’s better to discuss the things like switching costs — how painful it is to stop using one service and move to another — and change in each service’s market share. These are better indicators of how Facebook’s product might convince it’s users to spend money or not.
For now, I’m picking sides because Facebook’s playing a longer game. As Zuckerberg states, money isn’t a priority:
…we aren’t operating to maximize our profits this year.
Instead they’re focusing on what cool things they can do to develop and differentiate their product to get more people on board, spending money.
We just can’t forget that there are a lot of other really smart people trying to do the same thing.
I just received an email from the Google+ team with news about the latest Google+ application for Android, and there’s a subtle business model buried in there.
Google+ has an awesome feature called Instant Upload that — as you can see explained in the email above — automatically backs up your photos to the web (and keeps them private).
Before the update, the Google+ app would automatically scale your photos down when uploading if they were above a certain size. While most people won’t nocitice a difference — the max size before was a generous 2048x2048 pixels — I would expect that there are a few die-hards that will appreciate the new feature.
it’s generous for Google to now automatically back-up user’s photos at full resolution for free, but it’s also strategic. As a Google user, you get few gigabytes of Google Drive space for free that’s shared across all of your Google products (Gmail, Picasa, etc.). The few people who take advantage of the full-size upload will use up their 5GB of free storage space, creating justifiable reason to purchase additional Google Drive space to keep using Google’s services.
Overall, it’s a clever approach: offer a useful feature that most people can use for free (full-resolution Instant Upload), but force the power-users to pay a little bit of money to get continued value out of the service.
Combined with the ability to share with individual people, Google+’s introduction of “circles” makes fine-grain sharing possible for every conceivable piece of media you could ever want to share with anyone.
But choosing who to share with takes a lot of work. First, you’ve got to decide “who cares?” Then, if you haven’t already shared with everyone, you have to scroll and click through lots of menus to select the cirlces/people to share with. It’s kind of a pain.
I was at a friend’s birthday party this weekend and took this photo:
It’s a pretty silly photo, and while I had a clear idea of who would also think it’s silly, this group of people wasn’t encapsulated in single Google+ circle. It would have been an annoying amount of work to momentarily extricate myself from the party and choose each person/circle to share with. Furthermore, in my continued attempt to avoid causing other people FOMS (Fear of Missing Something), the last thing I wanted to do was share the photo with “All Circles.”
The growing utility of “where”
Google has been working hard to integrate their Maps, Latitude and Places applications. Not only can you use Google Maps to “check-in” to a venue on Google Places with Google Latitude (THAT sounds confusing!), you can also get reminders to check-in when you’re at specific locations, or even be checked-in automatically.
(Google Maps, Google Places and Google Latitude are naturally intertwined since they’re all based on location. If you’re not familiar with the differences between them, here’s the basic gist:
- Google Maps shows you where stuff is and how to get there.
- Google Places is a directory of that stuff—businesses, restaurants, stores, etc.—with reviews, ratings and photos.
- Google Latitude lets you privately track your own location, share it with friends, and check-in to places.)
One solution: Their powers combined
Imagine this: when you show up at the bar for this birthday party, Google Latitude automatically checks you in (via the device in your pocket). Your friends show up, and they’re also automatically checked in. No one’s check-ins are shared with anyone else; they’re kept private and just recorded in your personal location history.
A little while later you take a photo. Your device asks if you want to share the photo with the friends who are also checked in to the bar with you. Simple, easy, quick and relevant.
Relevance through proximity
Consider the assumption being made here: when you’re checked in somewhere at the same time as your friends, you’re probably hanging out with them. The photos taken are probably relevant to what you’re doing together, so why not just share them on the fly?
This isn’t a new idea; in fact, it’s very similar to what Color is trying to do. However, Color’s approach is to make every photo taken with the app public to whoever else was there with you. This is fine since it’s known from the start that everyone can see everything, but it’s not appropriate for private events.
One issue with Facebook that Google+ strives to solve is that not all “friends” are created equal. In some cases, friending someone on Facebook is nothing more than a mutual acknowledgement of existence on Planet Earth. You’re not actually planning to hang out, and you might never see each other again. But maybe it was fun talking that one time at that party at that guy’s place, and you friended each other on Facebook to “keep in touch.” (Don’t question this logic; it happens all the time, and no one knows why.)
Google+ brings the task of explicitly organizing your friends into groups to the forefront. Yet even this is an inexact representation of real-world situations, proving to be even less useful with in-the-moment photo-sharing. What if everyone in your “Best Friends” circle wasn’t there when the photo was taken? Do you still share with that circle? Is it worth making that last person feel bad that they weren’t there? I still try to avoid FOMS, but Facebook proves that most people LOVE bragging and showing the great time you didn’t have with them.
Better use of location might help solve these problems.
Disposable cameras at weddings
Being prompted with a list of nearby “friends” (in both time and space) can be dangerous. What if you weren’t supposed to know someone was there? Google actually removed a feature that would automatically notify you when friends were nearby for this very reason.
There are lots of creative ways around this, one of which is to check into an event at a location (Gowalla lets you do this, Foursquare less explicitly so). Maybe everyone gets an invitation, and if they accept and check-in, they’re automatically added to a a guest list that pops up when you take a photo. That way, if you don’t accept the invitation, you’re not on the list, even if you’re at the venue at the same time.
It’s similar to being at a wedding with disposable cameras everywhere. Everyone shares the cameras to take photos, and then everything gets developed and shared with everyone who was there.
Gowalla and Foursquare
As mentioned, Gowalla already lets you create and check into events. From a product standpoint, Gowalla is much more focused on letting you remember and collect your experiences. They’ve fully embraced the “passport” design metaphor, and let you collect stamps for venues, states, countries etc. If you use it consistently, you’re creating a timeline of what you’ve done and where you’ve gone.
Foursquare, on the other hand, is more about sharing where you are with friends. It’s designed to maximize FOMS.
Neither of these applications offers automatic check-ins or fine-grain sharing capabilities. That’s where Google Latitude stands out, even though it feels much more utilitarian right now.
Tend towards simplicity
My hope is that, as a whole, these location technologies tend towards smart, automated ways of sharing that minimize privacy concerns and maximize relevancy. I don’t like choosing from lists or organizing my friends. I want to take lots of photos and know that it’s easy to share the images with the people that matter the most, without anyone worrying about the “wrong” people seeing them.
Focusing on location is one solution, but it will be exciting to see what else the community comes up with to tackle this complex problem.