Will Google “Friendster” Facebook?

Anyone remember Friendster? It was an early entrant into the social networking scene. If they had done their work right they SHOULD have been a much bigger player than they are now.

Why aren’t they?

1. They didn’t take care of PR and didn’t take care of bloggers. Hmmm, Facebook is doing exactly the same thing. Several people at the dinner tonight noted that Facebook hasn’t responded to claims that Facebook’s employees are spying on data that the public doesn’t have access to. And that’s just one PR complaint.
2. They kicked people out that they didn’t like. Hmmm, Facebook is doing exactly the same thing.
3. They didn’t respond to new competitors who took away their coolness. Facebook? They are about to meet their biggest competition yet.

Last night I was at a dinner for Hugh Macleod and Oren Michaels. There was talk of an earthquake. No, not the 5.6 one centered near San Jose. The fact that Google is about to jump into the social networking world. TechCrunch caused the shockwave of the year with that one.

One name that’s on the Google announcement, Plaxo, tells me that Google is looking to build a “social graph” that’s open and doesn’t have walls keeping developers from playing. They are looking to “Friendster” Facebook.

Add into this last week’s little “Vic Gundotra” dinner and I’m already seeing a trend: Google is going full bore after influentials, bloggers, and other “new media” developers who need a social network as part of their efforts to remain competitive.

Think about it. Nearly every cool Web property lately has a social network. Upcoming.org, Flickr, Yelp, Channel 9, etc. All have their own proprietary social networks.

Look at MySpace and Facebook. Both don’t solve that problem.

Will Google? And, by helping out Web 2.0 developers and other influentials (Facebook calls them “whales”) will Google cut off Facebook’s PR air supply (which is proving quite lucrative)?

Those are things I’m going to focus on for the next few days.

Some things we still need answers on:

1. Is this new Google social network really fun to use like Facebook is?
2. Does it beat Facebook’s aesthetics?
3. Can the social graph be componetized so that I could add a social network to my blog, for instance?
4. Does the development platform beat Facebook’s? (Can I see which apps my friends have loaded, is the key question).
5. Does it build a really open social graph?
6. If Google does match Facebook’s utility (really easy: just clone the hell out of it but give the “whales” more than 5,000 friends. I’ve talked with many celebrities and businesses and they say 5,000 simply isn’t enough which is why many of them are forced to stay on MySpace) do they allow new kinds of social ads?

It’s going to be an interesting next month getting around to all these companies again and seeing what they plan to do.

69 thoughts on “Will Google “Friendster” Facebook?

  1. Robert:

    We can disagree;-)

    I don’t doubt the importance of influencers in any marketplace. But to say that a company will be a success only because of influencers (bloggers, for example) is somewhat shortsighted & somewhat egotistical. There’s been numerous companies pumped up by bloggers that have fallen well short of the measuring stick because the products lacked mass appeal for the general marketplace & I think that is missed in your somewhat defensive comments supporting blogging. You need to have a working product first that fills a need for many people(ICQ, PayPal, eBay & other successes all filled needs for the online market).

    “Now the fast adoption track is owned by iLike, which got six million users on Facebook in a couple of weeks.”

    I would argue that this success is largely due in part to other people seeing what other people were adding via the status updates on Facebook & not key influencers pumping Ilike. The appeal of Ilike is that is a self-expression tool (music that I enjoy) & that’s why it works. The same goes for Flixster & many of the applications put out by Slide or RockYou.

    Note: I already mentioned that blogging can obviously help in the beginning stages of a company & getting early adoption by people. I think your comments are somewhat defensive & miss the general statements that I was making about what else is needed to make it *work* (a working product & the potential for mass appeal). Friendster didn’t fail because it wasn’t nice to bloggers…the system problems at Friendster is what brought about their fall from social networking grace (I know of very few people in the tech industry that would argue this point).

  2. Robert:

    We can disagree;-)

    I don’t doubt the importance of influencers in any marketplace. But to say that a company will be a success only because of influencers (bloggers, for example) is somewhat shortsighted & somewhat egotistical. There’s been numerous companies pumped up by bloggers that have fallen well short of the measuring stick because the products lacked mass appeal for the general marketplace & I think that is missed in your somewhat defensive comments supporting blogging. You need to have a working product first that fills a need for many people(ICQ, PayPal, eBay & other successes all filled needs for the online market).

    “Now the fast adoption track is owned by iLike, which got six million users on Facebook in a couple of weeks.”

    I would argue that this success is largely due in part to other people seeing what other people were adding via the status updates on Facebook & not key influencers pumping Ilike. The appeal of Ilike is that is a self-expression tool (music that I enjoy) & that’s why it works. The same goes for Flixster & many of the applications put out by Slide or RockYou.

    Note: I already mentioned that blogging can obviously help in the beginning stages of a company & getting early adoption by people. I think your comments are somewhat defensive & miss the general statements that I was making about what else is needed to make it *work* (a working product & the potential for mass appeal). Friendster didn’t fail because it wasn’t nice to bloggers…the system problems at Friendster is what brought about their fall from social networking grace (I know of very few people in the tech industry that would argue this point).

  3. Microsoft spent a LOT of effort courting online influentials with a series of Compuserve and AOL forums, by the way. That effort still goes on today with the MVP program where millions of dollars are poured into courting online influentials.

  4. Microsoft spent a LOT of effort courting online influentials with a series of Compuserve and AOL forums, by the way. That effort still goes on today with the MVP program where millions of dollars are poured into courting online influentials.

  5. Damon: I disagree with you. A lot of the Web 1.0 companies got there by courting online influentials. OK, we didn’t call them bloggers before 1999, but they were still the first type of people.

    I was the first online site to talk about ICQ, for instance. Yossi Vardi says that the spread of ICQ by influentials was key in getting started. That was 1996.

    I remember how ICQ moved from 40 beta testers to 65,000 users in six weeks.

    Now the fast adoption track is owned by iLike, which got six million users on Facebook in a couple of weeks.

  6. Damon: I disagree with you. A lot of the Web 1.0 companies got there by courting online influentials. OK, we didn’t call them bloggers before 1999, but they were still the first type of people.

    I was the first online site to talk about ICQ, for instance. Yossi Vardi says that the spread of ICQ by influentials was key in getting started. That was 1996.

    I remember how ICQ moved from 40 beta testers to 65,000 users in six weeks.

    Now the fast adoption track is owned by iLike, which got six million users on Facebook in a couple of weeks.

  7. Hi Robert,

    I do think bloggers can be influential in the early stages of a company. But I also think there’s a ton of online companies out there that have done quite well w/o the overall support of bloggers and/or other influencers (many of the “1.0 companies, for example, didn’t have to worry about courting bloggers at all & probably don’t do so now).

    The bottom line is that there has to be mass appeal & working functionality for it to be embraced by the average person & that user attrition will happen with any service that has scaling issues that aren’t addressed quickly enough.

    Note: I personally don’t find the limitations on Facebook to be annoying. Not many people actually have 5000 “real” friends, after all. Most of the folks that I have on Facebook have between 100-300 friends…which is generally in the range of what most normal human beings could maintain as some sort of friendship. I think you’re in a fairly unique position because of your notoriety & willingness to be open with various social platforms.

  8. Hi Robert,

    I do think bloggers can be influential in the early stages of a company. But I also think there’s a ton of online companies out there that have done quite well w/o the overall support of bloggers and/or other influencers (many of the “1.0 companies, for example, didn’t have to worry about courting bloggers at all & probably don’t do so now).

    The bottom line is that there has to be mass appeal & working functionality for it to be embraced by the average person & that user attrition will happen with any service that has scaling issues that aren’t addressed quickly enough.

    Note: I personally don’t find the limitations on Facebook to be annoying. Not many people actually have 5000 “real” friends, after all. Most of the folks that I have on Facebook have between 100-300 friends…which is generally in the range of what most normal human beings could maintain as some sort of friendship. I think you’re in a fairly unique position because of your notoriety & willingness to be open with various social platforms.

  9. Heh.

    btw, there isn’t a 5000 friend limit per se. Just keep adding them. You/everyone might not be able to *see* the whole list, but my friend says it should work. That said, FB is working on changes to better support people with huge friend lists, so don’t ring the KO on them just yet.

  10. Heh.

    btw, there isn’t a 5000 friend limit per se. Just keep adding them. You/everyone might not be able to *see* the whole list, but my friend says it should work. That said, FB is working on changes to better support people with huge friend lists, so don’t ring the KO on them just yet.

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