In the beginning, it was Friendster -- which was toppled by MySpace. Then emerged Facebook, which toppled MySpace. And now, there's Google+.
The death of an old social media Web site at the hands of an emerging social network appears to be an evolutionary process. It's like one hangout place replaces the other. In the same vein, one wonders if Google+ will replace Facebook.
Google+, after other social media debacles like Google Buzz, Google Wave and Orkut, heralds the search giant's thumping latest entry into the world of social networking. Google has finally arrived in the social space with an offering with not just bells and whistles but a core which smacks of social network flavor.
Google has been secretly piecing together its media infrastructure through multiple acquisitions. In 2010, Google acquired social gaming site Slide, virtual currency Web site Jambool, Like.com, an image search engine and Angstro, a search tool that collects information about friends from social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Google also acquired PostRank a social media analytics tool which measures social engagement and fflick -- a Web site that pools movie reviews from social sites like Twitter.
Another significant move was the $200 million investment in the social gaming venture Zynga.
The outcome of these acquisitions can be seen in the key features of Google+. Angstro, which was acquired by Google, offered a similar service across professional lines, in that it allowed users to discover and share news about colleagues and clients. Angstro, instead of generalizing names, analyzes the social media to assist users to prioritize relationships on the basis of professional networks.
Another feature which Google+ offers is Sparks, which allows a user to type a topic of interest and then Google does a real-time search to suggest blog posts, videos, books and other related content. It also allows a user to see what others are talking about in the Featured Interests area. A similar feature is provided by PostRank, which Google acquired last year. PostRank monitors and collates real-time information about where and when stories generate comments, bookmarks, tweets, and other forms of interaction from social hubs. It enables publishers to track the performance of their content.
In the light of other acquisitions, primarily social gaming Web sites, one waits to see what games will come the Google+ way as Facebook was able leverage some excellent games to its advantage like Farmville and Mafia.
However, while Google+ has the wherewithal in terms of infrastructure and the right features to call itself a mature social network site, it still needs to offer stronger proposition other than a Gmail invite to woo users to leave an ecosystem of contacts built over the years on Facebook.
While Google is attempting to ease the process of creating a new magic address book through its Address Book Uploader, which will allow users to synchronize contacts scattered across diverse email services and social networks with a click of a button, there still exist a few soft loopholes which will keep Facebook users from moving to Google+.
However, there are a few cues that Google can take from MySpace to not commit the same mistakes which resulted in its downfall. Here are some reasons why MySpace was upended by Facebook:
MySpace made certain tactical errors like the creators' failure to restrict the user's ability to customize their profiles. Their strategy was to let customers dictate what they wanted. Thus, when they came across the loophole that allowed users to customize their pages, they decided to forgo writing a code to plug this patch as the users liked the flexibility.
However, this exposed MySpace to multiple security holes leading to spamming and hacking.
Also due to excessive customization, MySpace was not able to deliver the standardization of profiles that Facebook offered.
Google acquired Slide, a company which was founded by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin. The company makes widgets that allow users to customize their profiles. In 2006 the company allowed MySpace users to post slideshows and bulletins on their MySpace page. Thus, the temptation to deliver a similar feature on Google+ could be there. But allowing such customization ultimately resulted in MySpace's undoing.
Another chink in MySpace armor is the advertising which clutters the page layout unlike Facebook where ads do not take the limelight from the page layout.
Recently released Facebook inspired movie The Social Network suggested that Facebook scored over MySpace and Friendster, as it created a halo effect by its association with Harvard and Ivy League Universities, thus making it exclusive, granting it the mileage it needed in its initial years.
Meet New Friends vs. Meet your friends
However, what differentiates Facebook from MySpace strategically is that it focused on privacy and control. It allowed users to select whom they wanted to give access to their profiles. This allowed users to create their own exclusivity and let them connect with people they know. Facebook transplanted existing friendships to the net.
This was in contrast to MySpace strategy which is rooted in assisting users to meet new friends. MySpace required users to provide information like age, gender and location which was freely available to any user. This was a sufficient feed of information for scammers. To fend off unnecessary advances, users would misconstrue their personal information, thus, making the meet new friends strategy redundant. However, changes were made by MySpace but by then Facebook had gained mileage.
Facebook has over 750 million users and Google has a long way to go. But it appears Google+ has certainly made Facebook nervous. TechCrunch reported that Facebook deleted an ad posted by Web developer Michael Lee Johnson who was looking for Facebook friends to join Google+.