Friday, June 8, 2007

The Coming of Age of the Social Network

I have trashed some of the annoying elements of social networks, and mildly joked about Orkut in an earlier post. Of course, whether the 'humour' actually came through is entirely up to the readers. But these days I have seen stuff going on in social networks that are genuinely exciting.

In fact I should be saying social network. (Emphasis on the singular)

Facebook is making great strides in becoming a much more useful place for people. Yes, the social network can actually be a place where time can be spent productively. Recently Facebook launched the 'Marketplace' that allowed members of local networks to sell second hand stuff. More like Craigslist. The Texas A&M network posted on campus job openings on Marketplace.

But the most significant addition by the guys at Facebook is the Facebook Platform. It can be thought of as an online social networking operating system where users can create their own applications and plug them on to Facebook using the Facebook API. For the less technically inclined, these apps are basically widgets that you can add to your profile. Users, especially the geeky ones would be more than happy to create their own apps and offer others to use them. One of the apps that I particularly liked was the Flixster application. Flixster as a lot of you may know is a social network for film buffs. Despite being one myself, I rejected plenty of Flixster invites from friends because it required the creation of another set of user names and passwords. But Facebook's Flixster app works right off it without the need to have your own Flixster account.

I am not a frequent Facebook user, since most of my friends are primarily active on Orkut. Which brings me to this. While recently Orkut came up with an RSS feed service (similar to Facebook) where users could display their feeds on their profile, they limit the number to just 5. This could possibly be because Google most likely intends to increase awareness of blogs and RSS feeds to the significant desi demography that inhabits their social network. I am not sure how much Brazilians are into blogging.

But all this begs the question. Why didn't Google manage to capture the American market? Why was Google's marketing of Orkut marketing so minimal. With the array of acquisitions at the feet of Google, they could have so easily integrated much of their projects with their captured market share. Their failed Froogle could have been far more successful had they made it more localised and integrated it into Google. The array of widgets that people are already developing for iGoogle (by way of competitions or whatever) could have so easily have been done for Orkut. Had Orkut had an American audience as wide as Facebook, Orkut might have had an iOrkut.

So what now? Mark Zuckerberg clearly knew the direction he will take Facebook to when he said no to Yahoo's $1.65 bn. Obviously, Google will move to possibly widgetize Orkut. Allow people to develop apps for Orkut. But they could choose not to go the widget way, adding extra features by themselves as and when they feel like it. After all, despite the significant users outside of America, and the presence of its development centers in India, Google still metes step-motherly treatment to Orkut.

Localized classifieds might not yet be possible in India as Google still needs to map out the country suitably to allow such a thing to happen. Facebook on the other hand seems to zoom way ahead leaving even MySpace behind as far as creativity is concerned. But not all people are as happy about Facebook's platform app as this guy (while quoting Owen Thomas of Business 2.0) says:

“What any entrepreneur contemplating building apps on Facebook’s new so-called ‘operating system’ needs to realize [is] that the evil genius of Zuckerberg’s Facebook-OS plan is that, well, it leaves him owning the operating system,”[...]If you create a genuinely compelling service, why should you have to rent space on Facebook for it? That’s the question coders should ask themselves before they trip over themselves to start building apps for Zuckerberg’s social-network empire.

Well, people will have bad things to say about new technology, but hey, the users aren't complaining at the moment. And whatever evil genius they may attribute toward Mark Zuckerberg and his men, he is surely not going to be complaining for a long time, when the $1.65 bn that Yahoo offered Facebook might appear chicken feed to the behemoth it would have become.

Social networking may have started like a summer pastime like cricket. It sure wouldn't be the same in the near future. And Google might be wondering if it is one area they neglected badly with all their resources at hand.


  1. Google has seriously missed the bus on making Orkut a significant force in the Web 2.0 universe. I fail to understand why they wouldn't try to considering that Orkut has a huge user base outside America (Brazil, India, etc.)

  2. I guess that's probably the reason why they didn't care. Any market not popular in the US makes it seem like an exercise in futility for most American s/w companies.