Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday Three #4

This week's 'T3' coming up, let's jump in.

How could we ignore the news coming out about Facebook these days.  Earlier this week, Mashable reported that arguably the biggest social media channel of them all could be worth around $41 Billion.  This means that in comparison, Facebook is valued higher that eBay, which is hovering at around $39 Billion.  That is an incredible (and somewhat arbitrary) statistic to think about, especially when you consider where Facebook was just a number of years ago.

However, the biggest news about Facebook was the heating up of their battle against other online service providers, such as Yahoo! or Google.  As Geoffrey Fowler and Amir Efrati reported in the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has "unveiled a messaging service to compete for the loyalty of millions of Internet users".  This new messaging system looks to build upon the large network already existing amongst the Facebook community by introducing many new communication tools, including a facebook.com email address for users.  Facebook is looking to become a one-stop-shop for communications as the more "fun and more valuable" way of keeping in touch.

So is Facebook a 'Gmail Killer'? 

In a word, no.  In many words, it's not meant to replace the function of 'proper' e-mails systems like Gmail or Yahoo.    Mark Zuckerberg admitted during the launch that they don't expect "anybody to wake up tomorrow and say 'OK, I will shut down my Yahoo or Gmail account and switch exclusively to Facebook,'".  Fowler and Efrati point out that while Google and Facebook have different core businesses, they've been set onto a 'collision course' by trying to both secure supremacy over the online activity and user data market, a critical need for the 'future of targeted ads online, already a $26 Billion industry in the U.S." alone.  Both Zuckerberg and Google CEO Eric Schmidt seem to agree that their products are close to each other, but not replacements for each other.  The functionality of Facebooks messaging system is to put traditional e-mail, instant and SMS messaging together in one place, sending messages using whatever method works best.  On the other hand, Google's Gmail is a great platform for receiving formal e-mail correspondence.  Zuckerberg was quoted as saying "Gmail is a really good product", while Schmidt was quoted saying that it "is basically good to have more competition in the space," and that Facebook "appear[s] to be taking a different approach".

So can we take from this?  Facebook is certainly on the way to trying to take a stranglehold on the way consumers interact with the internet.  By putting all of these services together, it's hard to see how consumer's won't slowly shift to using Facebook for all of their casual conversations online.  It might be too early to make any conclusions, but this seems to be a big step forward towards making Facebook a powerhouse in the targeted ad market as well.

To read more, you can find the article here.

Facebook allows you to have limitless numbers of friends and connections, and Twitter also promotes the boosting of followers and the broadening of relationships across their network.  But one social media tool is taking a whole different kind of stand.  As reported by Brennon Slattery in PC World, there is a social media that doesn't seem to be that social.  Launched on November 14th, 'Path' is a social media built on three pillars: "photo-sharing, smartphones and exclusivity".  The purpose of the tool is to allow users to share photographs with friends, but unlike any other media, you can only have up to 50 friends.  Period.  Why is that?  Based on the research of Oxford Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar, the human brain can only sustain up to 150 relationships at a time.

So what we have is a social media that limits the number of connections and relationships you can make.  You might be thinking, well that doesn't make any sense.  Even Slattery feels that Path "seems a bit underdeveloped".  He goes on to cite the views of many: it has the "utility of a toy poodle", "doesn't see much of a future", some find its "exclusivity obnoxious and far too limiting".  Added to that, Path has gone exclusively with the iPhone as an app, completely ignoring any other smartphone platform including Blackberry and Android.  As if that wasn't limiting enough, there's a list of things you cannot do on Path:

You can't:
  • Connect to Facebook, Twitter or.... anything
  • Edit after posting
  • Like
  • Comment
ReadWriteWeb has a whole list of things you can't do.

So why would anyone ever get involved with Path?  BluHalo might have the answer.  According to their article on Path, experts in the field believe that "Path is trying to re-create the social media world by taking a dramatically different approach" with the aim of "building a far more intimate and personal network of close friends".  And I think they have got a point.  We cannot compare the functionality of sites such as Facebook against those of Path because Path was designed to not be like Facebook.  Path is supposed to be minimalist, intimate and ruthlessly simple.  By limiting the number of friends you can have (despite their cited research, which may well be true), Path forces you to spend more time nurturing the relationships you have rather than spreading yourself too thin. 

Take yourself as an example.  You are more than likely on Facebook and Twitter and if so, it's possible to have hundreds of 'friends' or followers.  I know that I have an excess of 600, thanks mainly to networking through high school and university.  Now that's not a huge number, but it certainly more than perhaps I am capable of maintaining.  And the facts are that I don't.  I cannot tell you that I communicate with all 600 people I have on my Facebook account on a regular basis.  Some of them are people I have known briefly, or very old schoolmates or people I grew up with.  Some might even have less substance than that!  The upshot is that whenever I look at what my friends are doing on Facebook, I can often find someone I don't really know doing something I don't care about.  Or they're taking pictures of themselves on a Mac and showing everyone... Including me.... And I don't care at all.

So maybe there is a lot of merit in Path.  It is ruthlessly simple because you friends don't need to 'like' your pictures.  You just want to share them.  But this brings me to a point I am confused about.  The main form of communication on Path is photographic, not text.  While you can add a caption to a picture to tell people where it was taken and who is in it, you cannot say much else.  So if you're trying to force me to nurture these relationships, how can I do that only through the medium of cellphone photography?  I think that as minimalist as Path is, we need a bit more interactivity in order to communicate with others.  So until then, if you really want to limit your connections, just purge your Facebook.

This next bit isn't exactly news, but more an item of speculation.  It surfaced a few days ago that Apple, the masters of build-up and showmanship, hinted at something big coming to iTunes.  We know Apple is a powerhouse of this 'tension marketing', just read Shaminda's post on Apple Press Events, so this kind of hinting might not come as any surprise.  The website simply said: "Tomorrow is just another day. That you'll never forget."  Ian Paul from PC World thinks that this could be a hint to "Paul McCartney's first solo hit, Another Day, which was written while McCartney was still with The Beatles".  Based on sources familiar to the situation who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, the rights holders of The Beatles songs have "finally decided to let it be and sell the Beatles albums on iTunes".

However, we won't know until... about 30 minutes from now.  It'll be worth keeping an eye on.