Will Google+ Eat Facebook’s Lunch?

I suspect Google+’s biggest selling point will be the idea of “circles.” In Facebook you’re my friend or not. With Google+ you’re part of a group or groups.

This has not been a good week to be Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook has a competitor… a well done competitor… a well done competitor from a company with very deep pockets. Google has gone on offense!

We’d like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software. We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests. And so begins the Google+ project:

The new Facebook threat is called Google+. It is well integrated into Google’s pre-existing menagerie of websites and services. That means it’s already well positioned with video (Youtube), text and video chatting (Google Talk), photos (Picasa) and search enhanced features.

I suspect Google+’s biggest selling point will be the idea of “Circles.” In Facebook you’re my friend or not. With Google+ you’re part of a group or groups. It’s set up to easily control who sees what. I can post something for work friends or weather friends or viewers or everyone. This lack of compartmentalization is one of Facebook’s real weaknesses.

Earlier this afternoon I opened a video chat (called a hangout) within Goolge+ and invited any of my few dozen friends to check-in. There were four of us with reasonably good video. There’s a feature that’s shifts the focus in a larger window to the participant who’s talking! I like that.

Google+ isn’t as much a new product as it is an improvement of an older one: Facebook!

Will it eat Facebook’s lunch? I don’t know. At first glance it seems better. The pages are cleanly laid out and the photos are larger.

Is there room for two social media sites? Probably not. A large draw for Facebook is there is only one Facebook (as MySpace discovered)!

Here’s the upside for users: Competition will bring out features and functionality faster. Maybe you’ll even begin to be treated like you’re important to Facebook… because as of now you really are.

What Have We Learned From MySpace?

It used to be when you bought a business you bought something tangible. No more.

News Corp, owners of Fox News, Fox Television, Wall Street Journal, NY Post and a zillion other media properties is no longer the owner MySpace. It wasn’t pretty. This was a fire sale. Rupert Murdoch, the guy behind News Corp, has to be smarting from this.

With that in mind let’s look back and see was written not too long after News Corp bought it. Here’s some of what David Carr’s Media Equation column from the October 29, 2007 New York Times.

No snickering please!

In the United States, Mr. Murdoch’s appeal is thought to work in the heartland, where Fox News takes aim. But on the left coast, Mr. Murdoch is truly among friends. The attendees at the Web 2.0 conference know him as the ultimate market timer, the guy who swooped in out of nowhere and bought MySpace for $580 million two years ago, before its audience doubled and before social networks became the platform of the future. And this was before Facebook got a valuation of $15 billion via an investment from Microsoft on Wednesday.

“This is not just another rich guy — there are a lot of those around here,” said John Battelle, one of the summit’s hosts. “He built News Corp. from not much, with his own two hands, and this is a room full of entrepreneurs. The other thing this room respects is intelligence, and they can tell he is smart, really smart, not just from what he says, but what he has done with MySpace.”

I just read John Battelle’s writing a book that “will give us a forecast of the interconnected world in 2040, then work backwards to explain how the personal, economic, political, and technological strands of this human narrative have evolved from the pivotal moment in which we find ourselves now.” Yeah… uhhh … right.

It used to be when you bought a business you bought something tangible. No more. Was there anything to MySpace that couldn’t be carried around in a briefcase? What did Murdoch buy for $580 million in 2005? What did he sell today for $35 million?

When companies can rise or fall this quickly how can you properly value them? Maybe the lesson of the Internet era is companies should be run to earn, not to be flipped.

Note: I work for FoxCT. We are affiliated with Fox Television, meaning we run The Simpsons, American Idol and NFL Football. We are not owned or run by News Corp.

Facebook, You’re Bugging Me

But it’s my choice and I don’t use the subterfuge of friending someone to accomplish my commercial goals.

facebook-page.gifWhen I first plopped myself onto the Internet in 1992 it was a very different place. This was the pre-browser, pre-WWW era. If there was anything commercial on the web I didn’t see it. Besides, the web (for me) was totally text based and running to my computer at either 300 or 1,200 baud (I can’t remember at the moment).

Things have changed! The Internet is full of ads and commercialism. Some companies, Google for instance, managed to find a way to make ads more valuable by making them contextual. Few find Google’s ads objectionable (though they’re often weirdly out-of-context)

Lets talk about Facebook. It’s relationship with ads is very different.

Modeled on Harvard’s actual physical “you can hold it in your hands” Facebook, it has become the leading social networking site on the web. They claim 350 million active users over the last 30 days! I can believe it.

Running the site must be expensive, because even with all the ads there are also commercially sponsored apps. I have railed about apps and their misleading come-ons in the past.

Either I’ve clicked enough buttons to silence most of them or their number is diminishing. Maybe their days are numbered?

Still, Facebook is too ripe with customers for businesses to stay away. Three of my last four friend requests were from businesses! That’s against Facebook’s TOS, but just wrong as a matter of common decency.

One woman (recently friended and now unfriended) sent an unsolicited invitation to her company’s wine tasting. I hit ignore (I’m a non-drinker) but was still spammed this morning by her ALL CAPS Facebook email with the details.

Founded in February 2004, Facebook is a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people’s real-world social connections. Anyone can sign up for Facebook and interact with the people they know in a trusted environment.

“[T]rusted environment.” That’s the operative phrase. That’s why I find this whole rush toward businesses wanting to be my friend smarmy. They want to take advantage of that trusted environment, which they’ve done… to the detriment of trust!

There is a place for business on Facebook. There are fan sites and other ways to communicate with customers. I am part of one. I am a member of others. But it’s my choice and I don’t use the subterfuge of friending someone to accomplish my commercial goals.

Facebook has in many ways become a pain-in-the-ass. There are many good parts. I like that I can see photos and hear stories from my friends (whether close friends or just Facebook friends). I don’t want to be hustled. We are approaching the tipping point.

If not careful Facebook will find, as MySpace has found, friendship is fleeting.

Facebook’s Cancer

Even though the original notification said it was coming from a friend, it was coming from “Feed.” Even though it said something had been posted to my wall nothing had been!

notification.jpgFacebook has been a fun experience. Unfortunately my time on the site is getting less-and-less enjoyable as Facebook’s apps bend the truth or even lie to try and sucker me in! It is a cancer eating at the Facebook experience.

Here’s an example.

This afternoon I got notified a friend had posted something on my wall (the links will take you to screengrabs so you can see what I saw).

If you’re not on Facebook this message means someone left something for you in a public space where everyone can see and comment.

Actually, there was no activity from this person on my wall! The message was a lie.

Hmmmm. I clicked on the highlighted part of the notification. Instead of taking my to my wall as an actual message would it took me to a permission form.

Read carefully. The form tells you nothing and asks for everything! Say yes and you’re giving it access to all your friends.

The application is called “Feed.” That’s a generic term. Is it meant to confuse? Probably.

Even though the original notification said it was coming from a friend, it was coming from “Feed.” Even though it said something had been posted to my wall nothing had!

Finally I clicked a very tiny “x” on the notification next to my friend’s name. This is how you tell “Feed” to bug off. It’s something you can only do if you already know. The “x” isn’t there unless you mouse over its location. It’s as well hidden as can be!

Finally you’re takena form to remove you from “Feed.”

Unfortunately there are dozens… or hundreds of these Feed-like applications. I have done this many times… many, many times.

Not all of Facebook is bad, but this is a real concern and a real pain-in-the-ass.

Originally I limited my friends to… uh… friends. That approach was wrong. Hundreds of viewers were turned down before my approach changed. Now if you ask, you’re my friend!

That explains how I acquired 1,335 friends. With that many there’s a lot to read.

It is difficult to believe Facebook doesn’t know this subterfuge is going on. It’s time to stop it or some day Facebook will find itself marginalized and reduced as MySpace is. That will happen long after it loses me.

Facebook’s Equivalent of “Reply All” – Stop It, Please

Facebook and its advertisers are betting on that. This is Amway style recruitment.

I like being on Facebook. Granted, not all of my friends are people I actually know (the new benchmark is people who would come to my funeral), but it’s nice to see what interests people who are interested in me.

I like reading what my friends write. Some of you are very witty. Some folks I know well show different personalities in the printed word than they do in the spoken word. That was a big surprise.

Maybe you like what I write? That’s why I promote my blog postings on my Facebook wall.

facebook-walmart.jpgWhat I don’t like are the “reply all” type messages I get when your gerbil has kittens in the aquarium. or you enter some sweepstakes.

I wonder if people realize EVERYONE on their friend list is getting this? You know the box you check before you join or enter a contest? It’s asking for access to your list of friends.

Originally I foolishly thought these were individually sent announcements. I didn’t want to seem antisocial to my Facebook pals. Facebook and its advertisers are betting on that. This is Amway style recruitment.

Nowadays I hit “Hide” all the time, but it’s a whack-a-mole game.

$100 Walmart Card Giveaway has been hidden from your News Feed. In the future, you won’t see posts from $100 Walmart Card Giveaway,

facebook-target.jpgFine, but there are other announcements for giveaways which are functionally the same, but different enough to get by. And get by they do!

No more than five minutes after I blocked Walmart, in comes one for Target!

There’s a method to this madness. These ads, and though Facebook would like me to believe they’re coming from you they are ads, are what pays the freight. There are more of them all the time!

On TV we try and separate content from advertising. On Facebook the line is blurry and getting blurrier.

I read an article a few days ago about the downfall of MySpace. Advertising clutter was mentioned as a main culprit.

Facebook, are you listening? I’m nearing the point where I’ll just have to hide me.

Social Networking

I have a MySpace account. I never use it. I opened it to see what MySpace was all about. We had just done a story about predators trolling there.

I scouted around and within a few minutes saw the profile of an 18 year old girl. Except, she listed her school – a middle school. It’s both sad and scary.

From time-to-time I’ll get an email from MySpace telling me I have an email on their site. It’s nearly 100% spam&#185. I’m getting to the point where I don’t even bother to check.

I have a Facebook account as well. Again, I don’t use it. In order to sign up, I needed an educational email address, which I had from Mississippi State. It still works!

A few people I know have signed on as friends. A few people I don’t know have asked to be my friend. I’m unsure what to do. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Is a friend on MySpace or Facebook really a friend? Is the word friend, as used on these websites, interchangeable with the word friend we’ve always used? Is this the real future of friendship?

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do on these sites. That’s just a sign of my advanced age, right? Maybe there’s really nothing to do… or I do it here by keeping my blog.

I know Stef has an active Facebook life. I know because she’s told me. As a good father, I stay away.

Maybe I’m better off that way.

&#185 – Unlike my ‘real’ spam, MySpace spam is mainly porn. Porn in real spam has become passe.

Hooked On Consumerist

When it comes to customer/retailer disputes, the customer isn’t always right. Unfortunately, often times he is, after the sale, when consumers have almost no leverage.

Maybe that’s why I’ve become hooked on reading consumerist.com. It’s a guilty pleasure, like reading about Paris Hilton or sneaking a candy bar from the bag left over from Halloween (you think this is a surprise to anyone in the Fox house?).

I am often amazed by the reported (not verified) outlandishly bad behavior of America’s big merchants. And believe me, some of this is pretty mean.

On the other hand, I also see consumer weasels trying to game the system and then getting upset when they don’t succeed. Reading their letters of complaint makes my blood boil. Consumerist often treats them as legitimate complainers, though I wouldn’t.

Business weasels seem to outnumber consumer weasels. Again, remember where the leverage is after the sale.

I am curious how big business looks at sites like this? All of a sudden, the Internet has made one person’s word-of-mouth louder and opened up publishing to nearly anyone. Bad customer experiences trying to cancel AOL’s service, get a cable TV problem fixed, or expose customer neglect by airlines have been well documented with pictures and sound.

Do big businesses weigh the cost of this bad publicity and if so, how much weight is given to sites like this? Is someone from Cingular or Home Depot or any one of the sites often mentioned reading Consumerist as part of their job?

I can tell you from experience, no official has ever responded when I’ve written about a product or service I was dissatisfied with – but this blog gets minimal traffic.

‘Buzz’ has created today’s celebrities. It’s also responsible for web hits like YouTube, Craigslist and MySpace, which seemingly grew without organized promotion (at best with minimal promotion). Can buzz injure established brick and mortar companies too?

Read at your own peril. The site is addictive.

When You Don’t Know Number One

Google has announced its Zeitgeist list for 2006.

I always thought this list should be their most popular searches. It’s not. Year after year the most popular search terms are pretty much the same… and I’m sure the Google boys didn’t want to let on what people are really searching for.

No specifics, but by and large, you’re perverted!

As Google’s corporate voice explains:

We looked for those searches that were very popular in 2006 but were not as popular in 2005 — the explosive queries, the topics that everyone obsessed over. To come up with this list, we looked at several thousand of 2006’s most popular searches, and ranked them based on how much their popularity increased compared to 2005.

Indulge me a moment. There are some entries we do have to discuss. For instance, number one on Google’s master list is Bebo. Yes – the world is searching for Bebo. I have no clue what Bebo is (and until a moment ago, I was going to type ‘who it is’)!

Let’s put this in perspective – each time I type Bebo, my spell checker reminds me I’ve done something wrong!

From Wikipedia: Bebo (pronounced “Bee-boh”) is a social networking website, designed to allow friends to communicate in various ways. It has developed into an online community where users can post pictures, write blogs and send messages to one another, and is similar in format to MySpace, hi5.com, Xanga and Yahoo! 360.

Inferred in that is, I’m too old (or too married) to ‘get’ a social networking site. That’s depressing.

There are a few other interesting tidbits to be found. There was lots of buzz off the net (aka – the real world) this year for Dancing with the Stars and Project Runway. They’re both rounding errors compared to American Idol!

Likewise, the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics paled in comparison to the World Cup – a non-event in the United States.

If you’re romantic, the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes wedding took 4 of the top-10 spots in the marriage list. Next year, we’ll see how the breakup rates.

Finally, who are the Cheetah Girls and why do so many people want tickets? Can a huge touring act be completely under my radar? Am I that unhip?

Why All The Money?

It’s a good week to be Mark Zuckerberg. First, it’s always good to be 22 years old (or so I remember). Second, it’s nice to have a little nest egg to fall back on. In his case that’s Facebook.

If you don’t know what Facebook is, don’t worry. You’re probably not a college student and here in the 21st Century, hipness is on a need to know basis.

Briefly, Facebook is a social networking site, like MySpace. Actually, it doesn’t make any difference. It gets a lot of traffic from people advertisers want to reach. Currently, traffic = revenue.

From The New York Times:

When Viacom offered $750 million for Facebook in January, he asked for $2 billion and was rebuffed, according to a person involved in the negotiations. Now, he remains undecided about the latest offer, made in the last few weeks by Yahoo.

That latest offer is for around $900,000,000 (the numbers seem to have more impact fully written out).

I don’t get it. As with the last Internet bubble, the numbers just don’t add up.

Let’s say the software, hardware, infrastructure for Facebook is $10,000,000. Oh, what the hell – make it $50,000,000. That’s got to be way high… really, really way high, but it doesn’t make any difference.

With $900,000,000 you could set up an online competitor to Facebook and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to promote it. Give away bags of money if you want – real bags of money. Buy the user’s allegiance away from Facebook.

How can that not be cheaper than buying Facebook outright&#185?

What is the sense of buying a business that will bill under $50,000,000 this year for close to a $1,000,000,000?

Back before the Internet burst the first time, loads of companies where sold for immense sums. Broadcast.com went to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion. Click on Broadcast.com today – you just get Yahoo!

From Wikipedia:

In April 1999, Broadcast.com was acquired by Yahoo! for $5.7 billion in stock and became Yahoo! Broadcast Solutions. Over the next few years Yahoo! split the services previously offered by Broadcast.com into separate services, Yahoo! Launchcast for music and Yahoo! Platinum for video entertainment. Yahoo! Platinum has since been discontinued, its functionality being offered as part of two pay services, AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet and Yahoo! Plus.

As of 2006, neither broadcast.com nor broadcast.yahoo.com are distinct web addresses; both simply redirect to yahoo.com.

The Broadcast.com sale wasn’t a total loss… at least it wasn’t for Mark Cuban, now owner of the Dallas Mavericks and HDNet.

So, Yahoo!, bon chance on this one. They can’t all be overpriced bombs. Can they?

&#185 – This is by no means a rap on Facebook – a perfectly fine site. I’m kvetching about price, not content.

It’s My Space – Not My Space’s Space

I haven’t really looked at my website’s raw logs in a while. Google helps me keep track of my traffic since they’re serving up the ads. They do a good job.

I’m not sure why, but tonight I pulled some logs. When I looked closely, I was very surprised to see this website is providing bandwidth to MySpace.com in a big way (at least for me it’s a big way).

The month is half over and I’ve already served up 16,604 images to MySpace! That’s about as many images as I’ve had legitimate page reads. It comes to 69.5% of all the inbound links to geofffox.com.

It is called ‘hotlinking’ and it’s especially prevalent from sites like MySpace, where you get an address for text, but no storage space for graphics. The MySpace user finds an image on my site, enters the address on my server, and it appears on their page.

I end up providing the bandwidth and taxing my server – slowing it down. MySpace and its user get all the benefit and none of the cost.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there was a courtesy line and link back to my site. I’m willing to trade bandwidth for traffic. But, of all the pages I’ve checked so far, none had a link back.

There is a way to stop it, and I’ve done just that tonight. I’ve added a really ugly yellow image (so they’ll see it) saying hotlinking isn’t allowed and created an .htaccess file on my server to send it instead of what’s linked.

I know I’ve made some of the pages pretty ugly in the short term. That’s not my intention. There’s not much else I can do.

Oh – because of this I’ve spent a good part of the evening looking at my images on MySpace pages. The look of most pages is…. eclectic.