Editor’s note: This guest post is written by Tom Anderson, the former President, founder and first friend on MySpace. It is adapted from a comment he made on Google+ and reprinted with permission. You can now find Tom on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
Today at the Facebook news conference, a reporter asked Mark Zuckerberg what he thought of Google+. Zuckerberg responded by saying that lots of companies are going to build things like video chat, but Facebook competitors also have to build up their social graph first. Facebook’s job is to just keep innovating. It’s a perfectly reasonable response, and of course, he’s exactly right—the challenge is to get the user base, and make it easy for them to use your product. Done and done for Facebook. The integration looks great.
Some pundits are complaining that the technology is not new, but that’s besides the point. Case in point: at MySpace we launched what Zuckerberg is announcing in 2007 (try googling “myspace skype partnership”), and MySpace also had one-on-one video chat back in 2004. The point is that people weren’t really ready for it back then—now is the time, and Facebook has the user base. The large user base (750 million) paired with a simple integration of arguably the best voice/video tech (Skype) is what makes this news.
Zuckerberg also pointed out in his response to the Hangout question, that one-on-one video chat will be the more common use case (Google+ has “Hangout” which allows 10 users to video chat at once). Again, perfectly reasonable, and probably right. Many sites have group video chat, Google+ is not the first, nor is Hangout a game-changer. What you need here is the user base, which currently only Facebook has, and people will more likely talk one on one (like we do on the phone, duh).
The more interesting part of his announcement, I think, was the implicit response to Google+ in his intro leading up to the Skype integration. What Zuckerberg said is that Groups on Facebook are actively used by half of the 750 million user base. And “Groups” is really Facebook’s second attempt at “Friends Lists,” which Zuckerberg admitted last year, was not getting traction (people didn’t want to do the work of putting people into lists).
The Facebook Groups feature is designed in a way so that users who do care to do the work, can. Someone invites you, and you’re in the group without you having to take any action. (In fact, you have to do some work to get out of the Group!) Zuckerberg points out that this is how friend requests work as well—there’s always a select few who do all the friending, and the rest of us just follow along, with a much easier “approval.” Facebook’s Groups were designed in a way to overcome the friend list problem. They’ve grown quickly, even if 95% of the user base can’t be bothered to make their own groups.
And if you think about it, that’s the smart way Facebook has approached many things: build an app platform, and let the developer community do the heavy lifting. Create a translation platform, and let users translate Facebook in every language known to man. Create a Group feature, and let the 5% create the groups for the other 95%. It’s like Mechanical Turk, but we’re not getting paid. (Unless you’re Zynga!)
What remains to be seen, is which model will users prefer in the long run—Facebook “Groups”—which function more like an old-school Yahoo Group with a Forum built-in). Or Google+ “Circles”—which is more like an email distribution list meets Twitter with better commenting. The two are actually very similar, but each probably does certain things better than the other. Thinking about what each model does better is probably the key to unlocking what “model” is going to “win.”