Ah, Google – you evil bastard! You slipped in another Facebook / Twitter / (insert social network of your choosing) Killer into our gmail accounts while we slept, blissfully unaware of your latest misguided attempt at social network domination. At least the Wave and the Buzz make me think that, hey, I need a vacation; Google Docs? Not so much. But at the end of the day, as much as you’d like to, you will be hard-pressed to transplant the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. You have more money than most to spend on technology – but technology has little to do with the problem you are trying to solve.
Here’s the thing: Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are marginally interesting technology, but I venture to guess that I could pay some very clever college students all the pizza and Meisterbrau they can consume, and they’ll come up with a pretty good approximation of the Facebook, Twitter or ______________ technology in a matter of weeks. Facebook technology has as much value as Twitter or Google Buzz technology: next to nothing.
Yeah, I said it. All this social media technology by itself is worth about as much as, well, Google Wave. Because the value of Facebook is that some enormous number of people use it every day, and they use it a lot. Same with Twitter. It isn’t the technology of the network that matters: it is the network itself that counts. Facebook could easily go away – it happened to MySpace, and it could also happen to Twitter. But MySpace wasn’t killed by technology or Rupert Murdoch’s continued misunderstanding of all thing interwebz (although it hastened its decline). MySpace is dying because people aren’t using it the way they used to.
The value of a network is generally (and very loosely) based on the number of people that use it (Metcalfe’s Law). The value of a network is more precisely based on the number of possible subgroups within the network (Reed’s Law). On this count alone, your chances of transplanting a Facebook or Twitter go from “No way in Hell” to “Geez, if I drink enough, I could see it happening.” Why? Because you brilliantly gave away a veritable plethora of free email accounts (I think I have, like, 87 of them). This gives you a network with an enormous number of users – a necessary precondition to taking over the social networking world.
But this isn’t a network problem alone – it is a value problem. And while having a huge network (through registered gmail users) is a necessary factor in your dastardly global dominance scheme, it is not sufficient. And this is where you will fall short again. Because email is more ubiquitous than the largest social network – everyone’s got an account – but the economic value of a network is based upon the aggregate value of the interactions on the network. And people don’t value email interactions. If they did, email would be synonymous with “printing money.” Which I suspect is what you are trying to do, at the end of the day. But I don’t want to interact socially through my email – I would rather not do ANYTHING through my email, just as I never write letters anymore. There is already enough garbage in email to negate any value it ever might have had – and hey, don’t get me wrong, I use email; I just use it when I have no other possible means of communicating what I need to communicate. But until you can tell me what in the hell “fwd:fwd:fwd:re:fwd:fwd:re:fwd:re:puppies” means without me having to open the damn email, I’ll pass.
The two necessary and sufficient preconditions for achieving social media world dominance and the economic and intellectual imprisonment of the world are 1) a very large and active community; that 2) delivers high perceived value in the interactions of the community (and “noise” does not equal “value”). With Google Wave you took a fair (although off target) shot at delivering more valuable interactions, but you couldn’t drive the numbers. With Google Buzz, you are using your huge gmail user base to capture numbers, but without improving the quality of the interactions in that network.
The good news? You’ve got the problem surrounded. The bad news? I think the Buzz you’re hearing is really the sound of a fizzle.