Despite clear differences, search engines and social media converge on many of the same fronts. Facebook has been rumored to be working on a search engine of their own for over a year. Google now has its 1st valid social media contender. Microsoft is integrating social media into its search and is rumored to be working with Facebook on expanding on their relationship.
Are we seeing the first signs of social media contraction and consolidation?
Many would say that the two are completely different. They would say that search was a battle over one concept–producing better search results–and that social media could never head in the same direction because social media has a multitude of fronts on which the different sites can battle.
Foursquare, for example, is a one-trick pony. It’s niche is location declaration and while it’s branching out to add more functionality, it will always simply be a way for people to check in. The problem with that thinking is that Google, Twitter, and Facebook all have their own ways of declaring locations. The niche can be filled by the majors.
Sites like Groupon and their competitors had to only worry about each other for the last couple of years, but again Facebook and Google are making moves to incorporate their functionality.
Picasa is being absorbed into Google+ and Flickr could be sold to Facebook before the end of the year.
Every day, more examples of niche sites or the functionality they possess are being gobbled up or copied by one of the major players. Every ingredient in the social media pantry is being dumped into the big pots.
Unlike search, social media is a conduit for creating need. Three years ago, the concept of checking in to locations was unthinkable for most people. Two years ago, nobody imagined growing virtual crops or caring for virtual cows. One year ago, telling someone that “the deal is on” meant nothing to them.
Facebook has 750 million users. Twitter has over 200 million. Google+ is blowing up with over 20 million users signed up in the first 3 weeks and we haven’t even seen a fraction of what they have planned in marketing and business integration. The lines are being drawn and the goals are changing.
We are seeing a consolidation of social media. Many innovators are shifting gears away from building the next big site and leaning towards making the next big app that can run on Facebook. With Google in the mix and likely to adopt a similar app-based infrastructure, there’s a good chance that in the next 18-24 months we will no longer have thousands of social media sites from which to choose.
In a year, there may only be two major players vying for 99% of our social media time. Blogging and videos are likely to remain standalones for the longest, but even they can be engulfed. Facebook is potentially working on a challenger to YouTube and Google will likely incorporate Blogger into its social mix.
Today, social media is still a vast landscape. In the near future, we may be talking about social media the same way we talk about search. We will be on Google+, Facebook, or both. Everyone else will be to social media as Ask Jeeves is to search–a failed contender.