Saturday, February 13, 2010

Social Network O.V.R.KILL

Google Buzz - yet another "Social Network". I think with Google's next attempt to get into the Social Networking Business (they already have Orkut, which isn't used anywhere but Brazil), it is now time to revise the rise of Social Networks and to review the jungle of different kinds of communities, networks and forums that is existing now.

Social Networking is one of the new in-words that were introduced along with the Web 2.0 hype, but Social Networks are nothing really new, although it is nowadays associated with Facebook or Twitter. Long before Facebook and MySpace a lot of Dating and Flirting Services were Online that are quite similiar to Facebook, with the difference that these Service had no additional value, they were merely for the Friendships sake but Facebook or MySpace made it to create that additional benefit to keep Users returning to their service.

Many Forums where in the beginning equal to the pin board of Facebook, with the difference that there was only 1 public pin board ordered by topic. A lot of Forums then, tried to morph themselves into a Social Network, so what they did was keeping everything they already had and added the possibility for their Users to create a profile. The additional value they have or had and what distinguishes them is, that they are already specialised in one particular field of interest of subject. So when, from a real-life point of view, Facebook is the Cafeteria of a College, then these Forums build the different Clubs and Societies within a College.

One of the most popular Social Networking Forums, that recognised that a Forum is mainly about content and not about socialising, is the service Digg. With Digg, you can mark content ("digg it") that is then collected on their Host Page and categorised in the different subjects.

So we can summarise so far, that with the hype of the term Social Network, every Forum, Dating-Page and whatever else, redefined itself as a Social Network. That of course, led to the jungle and overkill that we now have. There are seemingly an eternal number of Networks, starting from the classics as Facebook over Business Networks like LinkedIn and Xing to content sharing or (micro-)blogging services as Digg, Yelp, Twitter or FriendFeed (bought by Facebook).

But whats the motivation of all this? Obviously the User Data, which are a fantastic business, although it is not (yet) really profitable. Look at YouTube or Facebook, each of them has an estimated value of more than a billion $, but both are struggling to be profitable. They are trying to refinance them a little over User-directed ads but that doesn't work too good, because the online-ad business is to "pay-per-click", so when you don't click on an ad on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg gets nothing. So why are they so high rated? Because they have the Users content, which includes personal data such as birthdate and address as well as hobbies. These are things that have an enormous value, to this adds, that nowadays everybody is using Facebook and others on iPhones and Android Phones, that these services know your current location. New trends like location-based-advertising and other "augmented-reality" services are arising because of this. I once heard an interview with Tim O'Reilly who was saying that: "One day we will find out that we are living in the world of Big Brother, and that we will actually like it". Of course it was meant ironically, but somehow he is exactly right.

But how does Google Buzz fit into that picture? Well, Google is trying to create a community or a Social Network since quite a while, as already mentioned with Orkut. Google also is the major player when it comes to Online Advertising and Searching. But their goal obviously is, to create a more complete profile of a person as any other service could do. They are trying to link your Soft-Data (=your current interests), such as Tweets on Twitter (which can be integrated to Buzz) or searches on Google, to your Hard-Data which are the data that identify you (name, birthdate, address,...). Along with services like Google Maps they can create quite an exact profile of YOU as a human being and YOUR present behaviour and location.

To get back to our College analogy, I gave Buzz a quick look, and, I have to admit, was not really impressed. But being on Buzz created an awkward feeling, because it is integrated into your Gmail account. So when Facebook is the College Cafeteria, any Nerd-Forum is your College Chess-Club, then Buzz is somehow looking over your shoulder in your private room. That's how it feels when I see Buzz right under my inbox. Somehow it feels that writing a mail is not a private thing anymore, but you have someone who is looking over your shoulder, or to formulate it more paranoid " watching you".

So privacy is not existent on the Web anymore - that is already general knowledge - but Google takes it with Buzz to another Level. I also wouldn't be surprised if Buzz is going to be the first Social Network that fully integrates all other popular services into it. Having a single point from where you can Blog, Tweet, write on your buddies Facebook pin-board or share YouTube Videos, is probably a Key-Factor to success.

Whatever the future of Social Networks will be, sooner or later there will be a wild consolidation of different services and sooner or later there will be 1 service from which you can control all others and collect all the data you spread over the Web to 1 place. The funny thing on it is that we will see it as no threat but as "finally a service that serves all my individual needs". Got it? I think Tim O'Reilly was right.