Evolution of a Facebook-Killer

Plenty of people have been wondering about which company might come along and dethrone Facebook. What if the answer is so obvious that you wouldn't notice until all the pieces came together?

What if the answer is Google: Maker of Gmail, Picasa, YouTube, Blogger, Maps, Latitude, Docs, Calendar, Gtalk, and now Google Voice—some of the best-designed, well-connected apps on the Web. Unlike social Web's golden child Facebook—which released a flimsy API that ginned up some okay apps, and a whole lot of crappy ones—Google built its network from the bottom up.

If you already use Gmail to email people, Gchat to talk, Picasa to share photos, YouTube for video then what's the point of logging onto Facebook? And there's no easy GPS tie-in for location sharing on Facebook; neither is there a way to collaborate on documents or calendars.

If only Google had a centralized "profile" page for all your Google accounts, and offered an easy way to find other people's Google profiles and connect to them.

Well, as of today, there is.

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On Tuesday, Google launched a small-but-crucial improvement to its "Profile" feature: you can now allow Google to display your personal account page—complete with some bare-bones Facebookey fields like hometown, university, place of residence and interests—using a vanity URL: google.com/profiles/your-name-here.

Google has been offering Profiles since late 2007, but they weren't searchable, and they had long, unmemorable URLs, making each one a virtual silo. Now that you can simply punch in any Google user's Google account name and find their profile (or search their name), Google Profiles have become a real tool for connection. You don't even really need to be "friends" with someone; if they're on your Gchat list, you have a pre-made pool of people to whom you can opt to show your extended profile.

Should Google choose to make Profiles a little flashier, and add in some kind of NewsFeed equivalent, they'll position themselves to become the first viable competitor to MySpace and Facebook. Thanks to Orkut, their more traditional Brazil-based social network, those features already exist; it's just a matter of implementing them. And don't forget that Google already has an extremely profitable advertising arm that it can leverage, unlike Facebook, which has yet to find a revenue stream that justifies its $15 billion valuation.

It's going to be an interesting 2009 on the social Web. I, for one, would relish the opportunity to delete my Facebook account and go all-in with Google. Anyone else feel the same?

 

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21 Comments

  • Fashion Dog

    The concept of facebook killer is ridiculous in my opinion, you cant create a 200 million user based overnight. not even google. yes i said it, not even google
    I found this blog explaining why, its a good read for those who think a facebook killer is amongst us.
    http://lixobags.wordpress.com/...

  • Patrick Boegel

    Two points to agree with here, first Michael M's, google is more the acquirer of some of these components vs the maker and they have not exactly managed them into sphere on par with how they revamped search. Second being Barry's point that there are some potholes in the Google social profile aggregation game.

  • Barry Welford

    I do not believe that Google is a Facebook killer: see http://cli.gs/rg30HT One of the big problems is that you may end up with two Google profiles and I see no way to get rid of one of them.

  • Barry Welford

    I do not believe that Google is a Facebook killer: see http://cli.gs/rg30HT One of the big problems is that you may end up with two Google profiles and I see no way to get rid of one of them.

  • Barry Welford

    I do not believe that Google is a Facebook killer: see http://cli.gs/rg30HT One of the big problems is that you may end up with two Google profiles and I see no way to get rid of one of them.

  • Chris Dannen

    @Alan: no one's making the assumption that Facebook will go away; after all, Friendster is technically still around, isn't it? But when we talk about social networks, we're talking about who's on top--and if the short history of these sites teaches us anything, it's that users are fickle and the king of the mountain can be dethroned quickly. Check out New York Mag's discussion of this very phenomenon: http://nymag.com/news/features...

  • Michael Massing

    Google is not the "maker", but the buyer, of YouTube, Blogger, and Maps.

  • Alan Chamberlain

    What is the fascination with zero-sum assumptions? Facebook isn't going away, and Google's profiles aren't going to kill it. As for integrated functionality in the cloud, Zoho has it all over Google, but no one's suggesting it could be a "Google-killer".

    The emerging social network ecology will support numerous overlapping communities. Social media hubs are not about killing other social media hubs, they are about killing off traditional media channels. Google's profile feature isn't a shot at Facebook; it's a shot at Time-Warner, the New York Times, and Clear Channel, et al.

    --Ax

  • Stanley Stevens

    Unjustly harsh on FB, but then again I'm a fan of Google AND Facebook. Facebook will find their way eventually, it'll just take a while (...exactly like another startup born in the late 90's that people hated on for 'not having a revenue model').

  • Hans de Kraker

    My biased opinion: a very valid point. Experience is so utterly relevant. Ask Jimmy Hendrix or for that matter, George F. Colony at Forrester Research. Bruce Temkin or Harley Manning better maybe: Experience Based Differentiation
    Improving experience is something we all relate to. Different ways (that improve old experiences) works well as well. All you then need to do is stick brand to it and be "as some marketers would say'' boring. A customer experience professional would say "consistancy".

    Google has overall created differentiated and better experiences. Ah, they were simple to understand as well. Just because they always focus on being secondary. YOUR task is primary.

    If they manage to continue down this route - from a customer experience perspective - you can't really make many mistakes. Especially if you hardwire it through whatever you do.

    However - we cannnot look around corners - and proof is in the pudding.
    History in the making.

  • Matt Urquhart

    I feel like I use everything else that is Google right now, and would welcome the opportunity to get rid of Facebook also. The problem is connecting with people between networks; unfortunately not everyone has recognized the beauty of Google yet. Switching now would be like removing myself from my Facebook network and thus 'all' the networks I belong to.

    I think that Google will develop something better (not necessarily bigger, at least in North America) than Facebook. The company's encouragement of employees pursuing their own pet projects leads me to believe an individual at the company will see the need, see the fix, and pounce. I'd make the switch in a heartbeat.

  • Kelvin Kang

    To the point of the article, I agree that Google has put together a quite compelling set of features that make it a very viable competitor to Facebook. The best thing about it is that it's not a closed system like Facebook is. I wrote some similiar thoughts as well on my blog. http://www.thekunit.com/post/2...

  • Cadence Jayda H

    "That's right," the man said. "I couldn't remember the word." He was the only t, then high school students, and, finally, to anyone aged 13 and over. The website currently has more than 175 million active users in amount of visitors, making Facebook the most popular social network, followed by MySpace and Twitter.other human at the loading dock this morning. The man didn't have a name, just a number, like the rest of the robots.Paris, at Night.

  • Tracey Smith

    I'd love to get rid of Facebook in favor of an all google solution...but Google's gotta get all my friends interested too!

    I already use Twitter way more than Facebook...FB is just a time pirate and I like many others DO NOT LIKE THE NEW LAYOUT...Twitter just suits me better.

    I'm an avid Gmail user...use the calendar to manage my work and personal and use most of googles features...so to the idea of more I say BRING IT ON!

  • Kelly Lincoln

    will they lift the 1Gig limit on Picasa? I have to have multiple email accounts for my images. and, I don't like the idea having access to even more info.

  • Gunnar Järv

    Google already has the Orkut... I don't think that they are going to develop new social networking app...