congrats to Google (& others) for announcing Open Social & showing a little of what they've got planned... sounds impressive & hope to hear more soon. with luck, maybe i'll even be playing around with something live next week.
(UPDATE: analysis in this post will now change a lot -- TC reporting that MySpace will join Open Social. now it's ON. same arguments below still apply, but MySpace jumping in makes it a horse race.)
i'm optimistic & hopeful that Google's offering will become a great option for software developers and present a large audience opportunity to boot, however i was struck by Bill Tancer's analysis of the current relative size & growth of Open Social network partners compared to Facebook. at least according to this graph, they've got a damn big hill to climb.
fyi: Open Social line graph includes:
- hi5 (43% of total)
- friendster (29%)
- orkut (20%)
- linkedin (7%)
- plaxo (1%)
- ning sites (<1%)
Q: When is 100M users not so impressive? When it's users, not usage.
now, while i certainly appreciate Marc Andreesen's enthusiasm & clarity of vision -- note to Google: Marc's doing a better job evangelizing your platform than you are... maybe you folks should blog more? -- it must be noted his perspective is biased due to Ning. i respect Marc a lot, however the 100M+ users he quotes as part of Open Social is misleading: it may sound like a big #, but it doesn't reveal the underlying usage behavior of those users. based on Hitwise data above, currently Facebook usage far surpasses the usage of the other Open Social network sites in both scale & recent growth (guessing MySpace blows them away even more, on scale if not growth).
Slide & RockYou: Canaries in the Social Platform Coal Mine
note this might be slightly misrepresenting the impact of other Open Social partners such as RockYou & Slide & others, which arguably at this point are social networks of their own. however, their users were gained primarily from MySpace & Facebook, and it's perhaps questionable to consider those users separately accessible via non-FB/non-MyS Open Social platforms, since much of their behavior occurs on those 2 big networks, neither of which is currently an Open Social partner. one of the most interesting ways to tell who's winning the platform wars will be to watch Slide & RockYou & other leading developers -- their behavior will be a leading indicator as to platform success. of course, they'll both be in the mix when things launch, but it will be educational to watch how those 2 startups change allegiances over time. see where they're at in another 3-6 months, and i think you'll see the lay of the land.
Google's Social Assets: Gmail, Gtalk, Orkut, iGoogle, News, & YouTube
also missing from this analysis are what happens if/when Google enables users of Gmail, Gtalk, iGoogle & other Google properties -- perhaps YouTube most notably -- to opt-in to Google's social platform. while none of these properties (except YouTube) functions much like a social network today, one can imagine if a significant % of Google users begin to opt-in to Google's social platform offering, they could become a force... again, particularly with YouTube & Gmail, they've got potential. and if you care about International (i do), then Orkut's dominance in India & Brazil is also a big plus for the future.
Women Developers Really Care About: Size Matters
but aside from that BIG potential, Open Social success will depend on:
a) existing Google users joining / opting-in their social profile data
b) significant future growth of other Open Social partners (see graph)
c) user behavior adoption of Open Social "News Feeds" (not a given)
(note item C should not be taken for granted: Facebook spent almost a year getting users hooked on the Feed before launching platform... Google's trying to do that in reverse. don't know whether it will be simple to get users to adopt that new behavior right out of the gate. we'll see)
to summarize: i have no doubt Google (& others) can bring significant platform technical cojones to the table, but the real challenge for Google is one of scale, growth, and usage. it's perhaps astonishing to imagine Google as the loser of a battle based on such factors, but make no mistake -- google's adoption of the "open standards" mantle is entirely about them being the underdog, which is pretty unusual territory for the GOOG. Open Social is an attempt to get bigger, but they're still starting with a fairly small base (again to clarify: large # of users, but small amount of usage, currently anyway).
1 and 1/2 last thoughts:
1) curiously missing from this whole picture is MySpace. given the existing advertising partnership between Google & MySpace, and MySpace's competitive position with Facebook, it would not have been surprising to see MySpace on the Open Social list of partners -- in fact, MySpace absence from Open Social speaks volumes. i seriously can't imagine they weren't asked to participate... one can only surmise they felt confident enough to go their own path, or at least play wait & see until after their platform launches and/or Google's succeeds or fails.
UPDATE: looks like it's on... TechCrunch sez MySpace is joining Open Social. ok, NOW we have a horse race folks :)
1/2) [this space reserved for discussion about Microsoft Yahoo, AOL, & other gargantuan email, IM, & SMS platforms that have yet to launch social networks & platforms of any note.] damn are you guys clueless. really blows my mind. please, please, please... launch something. buy something. do something.
expect more on these subjects soon. we'll be talking about it for years :)