Now that we’ve got a couple of weeks under out belt with Google+ and the industry pundits have weighed in on the likes and dislikes of the new platform, it’s time to start thinking about the future. Whoa, you say… it’s only been TWO weeks. Hey, in the world of internet/social networking weeks are like dog years.
I kind of have some “crow to eat” with this post – yummy… For well over a year now I’ve been predicting the total demise of Myspace. On the surface, if you look at what’s happened over the past 30 days, I could actually make the case that I was right. After all, $35M is a paltry sum to pay for what was once a darling of the social networking world. But things change in this industry. The introduction of Google+ into the mix might just be a good thing for Myspace, distracting media attention away from it just long enough for it to regroup, re-brand and reemerge. Time will tell. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working with dog years here so it shouldn’t take long before I really do know if I need to get out the fork and knife.
Under the assumption that Myspace survives, I’ve stepped back and looked at the social networking (and social media to some extent) landscape and pondered what the world will look like a year from now. Obviously Google+ and Facebook have the lion’s share of media coverage and attention now, with industry predictions all over the map with respect to the impact on Facebook and other platforms. So I thought I would take a stab on peering into the crystal ball and seeing what the future holds. To make it simple, I narrowed the field to a subset of the social networking universe – Facebook, Google+, Myspace, Twitter, Linkedin and industry blogs. To help visualize my thinking I constructed a simple infographic (loose definition) to show the relationships and the potential migration paths from one social networking platform to another (click on it for a full size image). I also took a stab at predicting what the growth pattern will be for each platform over the next year or so – totally un-scientific in nature, but based on how I see the drama playing out, probably a decent prediction. Let’s take a look at each player…
Obviously Google+ will be the big winner in the migration, gathering up deserters primarily from Facebook and Twitter. While Google+ growth will be significant (I gave it two +’s), it won’t kill off either of these services as some have predicted. Google+ has been declared the domain of the “tech savvy and social media elite” by the media, with the likes of Robert Scoble, Kevin Rose, Tom Anderson, Tim O’Reilly and Ev Williams leading the way. Now, by Google’s own admission this was by design, stating that they wanted to sort out the user experience before they opened up to the general public. One could argue that this may or may not be a good strategy – as it could tend to insulate the general populous who could care less about the people I mentioned above – resulting in a “I don’t want to associate with a bunch of snobs anyway” attitude.
The platform that Google has delivered lends itself well to the tech savvy/social media users, but it still needs some interfaces to other platforms to make it truly the platform of choice for that community. For the general populous, it still has to get over the “migration cost” hurdle that I have written about before. While signing up for a Google account may seem like a trivial task to most of us, it’s not necessarily so for “yo momma”. So Robert Scoble may get his wish – Google+ will be the platform for the “rest of us”. But even for the savvy/elite there may be some problems – like “signal to noise” ratio as it has been described. While techies and social media people like to engage in conversations, they don’t like them to be free-for-all in nature. Google will have to sort this one out before they can attract the big-named entertainment and media stars.
OK. Facebook is not going away. It’s not going to lose 50% of its market share. It will continue to grow and it will work diligently on adding lots of new features and creating new business models over the next 12 to 18 months. Facebook will lose some users to Google+ and Myspace. While I say “lose”, what I think will really happen is that those people will simply create a Google+ or Myspace account and they will maintain their Facebook account. What this may result in is a slight drop in Facebook traffic related to the “deserters”, but my prediction is that it will be negligible. While we all like to talk about how much we dislike some or all aspects of Facebook, we still sneak back and check up on our friends and high school classmates. And remember, “yo momma” is still going to be over on Facebook, so you need to be able to drop in on her from time to time and say hi. I don’t think Mr. Z is going to make it overly easy to do that from Google+, so you will have to maintain your account.
If you notice, I draw the “General Populous” arrow from Facebook to Google+ and Myspace with double-headed arrows. I do believe there will be a lot of people who sign up for Google+ to “kick the tires”, but in the end, will return to their comfort zone – either because they miss their friends or they just get tired for “following” the tech savvy/social elite.
I also believe that there will be a migration of Brands to Google+ and Myspace as it re-invents itself. But this won’t be a true migration as they will live in both worlds. With respect to Myspace, these will center around entertainment brands. There could be a mass duplication of brands in Google+, but I think they will initially focus on social media and tech brands, potentially followed later by commercial and retail. The outstanding question is whether any brands will migrate/duplicate from Myspace to Google+. Since it’s too early to understand the impact of both Google+ and the reinvention of Myspace, it’s hard to predict if this migration will occur. If it does, I believe it will be limited in scope.
Twitter stands to be the “big loser” in this scenario. But “big” is relative. I don’t foresee Twitter experiencing massive desertion, but there has been quite a bit of chatter about using Google+ Streams and Sparks in lieu of Twitter’s 140 character limitation. But, as the old song goes “breaking up is hard to do”… Once you’ve built a community of followers it’s hard to abandon them. So while there may be some desertion among the big-named industry players, as with Facebook, I don’t see Google+ being Twitter’s demise. Even if the big-named player do make Google+ the platform of choice for their daily postulations and prognostications, I think they will export them to Twitter as a distribution channel.
So why did I give Twitter “negative” growth? I think it’s usefulness as a meaningful communication mechanism and marketing platform has reached its peak, and regardless of the impact of Google+ (and Facebook for that matter), I think it will begin to level-off at best. If Google+ reaches its potential then it could experience the negative growth I predict.
Ah, my favorite subject… Why in the world would I even put them in the same universe as these other Goliaths? Especially since I have been so hard on them. Well, I think there may be a glimmer of hope for them. Not that Justin Timberlake is the tycoon that can save them, but he does give them a boost. I think there is room in the universe for a social entertainment network – something that people who are currently wandering around Facebook are seeking. If the predictions for Google+ hold true, then the artists surely will not want to play in the land of propeller heads and prognosticators. Twitter – obviously not. So that leaves Myspace to pick up the pieces of its shattered past and try to rearrange them into something that holds value for a targeted audience. But first they have to clean up the boatloads of crap out there today and then offer a revamped, slick and sexy experience for their new community. If this happens, then I do think that they can capture some of the lost souls who wandered over to Facebook and maybe even pull some brands away from Facebook. But if you notice closely, just like Google+, I drew the migration arrow for the General Populous will double-headed arrows. I think some people will migrate over, find out it’s not for them and return to the warmth and security (no pun intended) of Facebook.
I venture to say that the vast majority of people who are currently on or will be in the near future maintain at least one industry-related blog. That’s just the nature of us techies/social media people. We like to express our opinion about things. The people that we target are the same people that will probably end up with a Google account and will live on Google+ to some degree. So like Twitter, why will I need a separate platform with which to communicate with them? Well, that’s pretty obvious – not everybody will be on Google+. But like Twitter, there will surely be a mechanism to import/export blog activity. Will Google+ be the “platform of choice” from which most people create content? I don’t think so. I believe we will see people continue to maintain separate blogs. For the big-named techies and social media elite, it’s their brand, and they aren’t going to relegate that brand to Google+. So I think we see people experiment with Google+ for this purpose, but will ultimately migrate back to their branded universe for the purpose of differentiating themselves. Thus the double-headed arrow. In the end, I see the blog universe maintaining its current equilibrium, pretty much unaffected in terms of significant fluctuations in growth over the next couple of years.
And then there’s Linkedin sitting out there on the edge with no arrows. What’s that all about?! Well, I think Linkedin holds its own unique value proposition and community. I can’t imagine anybody using their Google profile as their primary identity in the professional world. Like Twitter and blogs, I think there will be a tight coordination/interface between Google+ and Linkedin for the exchange of ideas and opinions. But I just don’t see people abandoning it as the platform of choice for their professional presence, identity and interactions in the business universe. Thus I see their growth pattern remaining pretty constant, and as they add new features I believe they will continue to attract new members. On the other hand, I think they’ve got some challenges. First, they have to do a better job catering to the younger workforce. The current population is starting to look, well, let’s say a little “baby boomerish”. Linkedin needs a way to build communities that ebb and flow with industry trends – something that allows rising stars to showcase their skills, talents and accomplishments. And they need to upgrade their services in terms of both features and pricing. You just don’t get much for your paid subscription IMHO. Some might say that there’s a better mousetrap on the horizon…
As I said going in, this is a “crystal ball” view of what I think the landscape will look like over the next few months. There are millions of perspectives and opinions on who’s got the best solution in the social networking world. They each have their good points and bad. The next few months will sort them out. Let’s see if any of my predictions come true…