On the off chance that you felt that maybe Facebook had become a little passé, and that MySpace is sooo last season, darling, a brash newcomer by the name of Google has decided to enter the social networking arena.
Google Buzz is (to quote the commentary from its Youtube video) “a new way to share updates, photos, videos and more”. It integrates with Gmail – thus giving Google more than 170 million Buzzers at the outset (I’m not sure if Google has coined the phrase yet, but if not, it will), pretty good for a first day’s work – and allows users to update their status in real time, connect to sites such as Twitter, Flickr and Picasa; all comments are sent directly to the Gmail inbox. It also – cue another video quote - “identifies posts that may interest you from people that are popular amongst your friends” and flags them up for you as well. Buzz is also available as a mobile app – currently for Android handsets and the iPhone, although availability for S60, Windows Mobile and Blackberry is promised “shortly” – which allows users to geotag their locations and read posts from nearby Buzzers; users can post buzzes either through voice or visual shortcuts.
Now then. The arrival of Google Buzz means that there are now precisely three hundred and twelve million, two hundred thousand, nine hundred and three* social networking sites on the planet, which by my reckoning is only marginally less than the number of mobile broadcast TV standards (and look where most of those have ended up). It is, too put it mildly, a fairly busy space. So what chance does Google have of carving out a niche for itself? Let’s hear first from the existing competition. Facebook:
“The continued growth of the social web will be determined by people and personal relationships. The people you e-mail and chat with the most may not be your closest friends or the people that you want to share and connect with...”
And from other behemoths on the online jungle. First Microsoft:
And Yahoo (via an email on Yahoo Updates) :
“There are now more than 200 Yahoo! and third-party sites that feed into Yahoo! Updates – like Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp and Yahoo! Buzz – allowing people to see and share updates such as when they’ve uploaded photos, changed their status, buzzed up a news story or posted a new restaurant review, all from Yahoo! Yahoo! Updates now appear throughout the Yahoo! network, in popular sites and services like Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo.com, and Yahoo! Messenger and across our content properties, meaning people can always keep up to date with their friends’ latest activities”
Let’s try a spot of deconstruction. What Facebook is saying is that, while we’re not criticizing it directly, their modus operandi is wrong: for a site that offers a wider range of personal relationships, come to Facebook. Microsoft is the more direct in its pooh-bahing, and adds that, oh by the way, we got there first. Yahoo! is reminding its user base of the wonderful facilities that its own service offers – including one called Buzz! – just in case they felt that the grass was greener elsewhere.
But what’s key is that all three felt obliged to respond, in Yahoo!’s case, by sending out the social networking equivalent of those letters you used to receive from your bank or telecoms operator when the market opened up, the competition offered more attractive rates and you happened to mention that you were thinking of switching services. Together, the responses read: Hmm. It’s Google. They’re big. We need to watch out for these boys.
Which, given Google’s pre-eminence in just about every field it turns to, is a fair enough response. But by providing any kind of response, the various companies have simply provided additional publicity for Buzz, which is more grist to Google’s mill.
So how concerned should those players actually be? Well, firstly, the world and his dog are already on social networks, and – time being finite and all that – both world and dog are running out of minutes to spend on additional sites. Thus, while Google has 170 million users at the outset, the majority of those users will already be on Facebook, MySpace and Bebo (and in the mobile space, sites such as MoCoSpace as well). So they face the agonizing decision: do I spend my twenty minutes on the bus journey home on Facebook, or on Buzz? They may decide: all my friends are on Facebook, I’m staying put. But what they may decide – and this is presumably another concern of Facebook et al – is that they will spend ten minutes on Facebook, and ten on Buzz. And less user time on Facebook means that the advertisers thereon will get less views, less clickthroughs, and may ultimately consider taking their advertising elsewhere, or at least asking the site to reduce its cost per clickthrough rates.
From an analyst perspective, an interesting struggle in the social networking field is in prospect. From a social networking perspective, well, it could be argued that they’d rather not live in interesting times.
*give or take a few...
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