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.
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?