The old adage “If you don’t know where you're going, any road will take you there” is certainly true in the world of the Internet. Taken from a different perspective, if you know where you’re going, you can start from anywhere.
Examples of these aphorisms are at work today in Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
Facebook has unquestionably become a successful venture. However, its genesis was in developing a Website that let college kids hook up. The trail of features and functionality that we now know as Facebook was cobbled together as different issues and opportunities presented themselves, and as different minds worked on monetizing the site.
There’s no question that great minds and great circumstances along the way have changed a college experiment into a worldwide phenomenon. But this is an example of the “not knowing where you’re going” corollary. Facebook has become what it is because a set of circumstances led it there.
Similarly, Twitter was introduced as an experiment in minimalism -- an alternative to SMS text messaging. The ability to send a message that could spread to millions of people around the globe has made Twitter a phenomenal service. Its early days were plagued with outages that, though annoying, rarely disrupted any real businesses, because the service was only ancillary to the real world.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter enforces any accountability regarding the person behind the user account. Pseudonymous registration is part and parcel of both services. It’s commonplace for an individual to have multiple identities, and impersonating a real person by setting up a false account has been an accepted part of the social media culture.
More importantly from a business perspective, lack of identifiable individuals has made the determination of ROI from social media as seat-of-the-pants as determining ROI from highway billboards, but without the historical perspective billboards enjoy.
The discussion about just how Google+ has handled the removal of nonpersonal accounts is a hot topic, as several other journalists have opined. In the end, most concede that any tinkering with Google+’s membership is within the rights of Google, as are any consequences to these actions.
I believe Google’s team has a larger plan in the works that is more focused on profitability and delivering true value to both its users and its business partners/customers. That plan depends at least in part on its users being identifiable.
Of course, there are plenty of people who will decry the violation of privacy, but the overwhelming lack of concern among the general population of Facebook, combined with Google+’s highly manageable privacy controls, lead me to believe this is not an issue with the general population of users.
Joining the social media fray some eight years after Facebook’s rise, Google would seem to be at quite a disadvantage in the market. That is, unless you consider that Google has used at least some of those intervening years to gain experience, try a few experiments, and determine its destination in social media.
The evidence that Google has done just that can be found in the meteoric rise in Google+ user numbers in the first few weeks it has been available. And the fact that its initial launch has been invitation only means that the service might have grown even faster if it had started off with an open signup. CEO Larry Page announced during Google’s quarterly conference call that the Google+ service had reached 10 million users in less than three weeks of availability.
Google+ already does a better job at what Facebook and Twitter do, and the service is less than a month old. Those of us outside the Google+ team can only guess at what is already planned for the service, much less what they will learn from their early experiences with the rollout.
My guess is that we haven’t seen 10 percent of the plan, and that Facebook and Twitter should be looking for quick exit strategies, but expect that projected $100 billion Facebook IPO to decline.