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A Nightmare on Facebook Street Ц Google+
There are over 700 million users of the Facebook social network; by the time the book and the movie "Social Network" were released there were about 500 million of users. Needless to say that 700 million people is a considerable number. In comparison: in May 2011 Google set a new world record and according to comScore there were over a billion of unique users on all the websites of the giant (the search engine, YouTube and other services). Interestingly, the second place is taken by Microsoft with 905 million users. In May Facebook was visited by 714 million users. I was also interested in how many Twitter users there are there Ц this service with the limit of 140 characters is also a kind of a social network despite being very different from all the others Ц comScore data shows 139 million people used this service in May.
If we consider the development of the Internet in the recent years we will see that the most of the audience use various social networks Ц it is the last decade's fashion. And there is little difference between the global and the local markets. For example, in Russia there are a few strong local players (Vkontacte, Odnoclassniki) and they offer a better service than Facebook because they know the specificity of the market. Moreover, Vkontakte develops faster than Facebook and it was the first social network to offer its own currency while Facebook has introduced it just a few days ago. I don't think unlike many others that a single social network will gain global popularity and dominate all the markets. Google, for example, has a social network called Orkut which is very popular in Brazil and India. This service was launched in 2004 and is almost unknown in other countries. In summer 2010 Facebook outstripped Orkut in India but in Brazil Google manages to hold its position. I cannot call Orkut a local player but its example shows clearly how specific markets are and people merely choose what's convenient to them and often they don't go for the global brands like Facebook.
I think "The Social Network" movie added a lot of popularity to Facebook. Millions of people learned what Facebook is from the film and played a role of a very expensive commercial. By the time the movie was released the Facebook growth was slowing down but the movie boosted Facebook's popularity for a bit longer. Today this effect has worn off and Facebook is facing an audience exodus. The Inside Facebook website conducted a research using ads and states that by the beginning of May there were 155.2 million Facebook users but by the end of the month the number of users plummeted by 5.8 million. In the neighboring Canada the loss amounted to 1.5 million users. The USA and Canada were the first markets of this social network and today the growth of Facebook is only sustained through entering new markets. But anyway, in the future we will be observing a decline in popularity of Facebook. However, we cannot tell how many users will be left when the fall is over and for how long Facebook will remain interesting for users.
The Fashion for Social Networks is Transient
Why Facebook is losing users on its native markets? The answer is obvious Ц the fashion for this service is diminishing and people are looking for something new. We have a short memory and we often cannot remember how some web services developed. We have passed the era of Mailing Ц back then some "analysts" forecasted that by 2015 mail messaging would become the dominant data transfer means. They got the number of daily messages right but thought that it would amount to 80% of all the traffic. But the growth of the web has far surpassed any expectation and today messaging is less than one per cent of the traffic. This example shows that any forecast for the development of the web that covers over a decade is an impossibly long shot. The media is too fickle and the preferences of the users are affected by the fashion.
Then there was the rise of IM messengers and again many were expecting them to conquer the world and most expectations were around the ICQ project. There have been many transient phenomena like the blogging boom and the rise of the amateur journalism which turned out to be only a big zilch as many reasonable people had foreseen. The market always wants new services, new killer apps that would occupy the minds of the users. But it merely a marketing thing and in practice every service or website occupies its niche and we rush into a new and better project which might forever replace all the other services. But there are always alternatives and better solutions on their way and nothing really changes. I think that the popularity of social networks will soon reach its climax and then start declining until they finally reach a market balance. I don't expect them to die off completely but in the near future they will be losing their audience to new services which are going to set new user base records.
Large numbers are intoxicating and it seems that a service that has a millions of users is doomed to be there forever. But we forget the myriad of projects that went down overnight. Do you remember how much hype there was around MySpace and how quickly everyone forgot about it? Today we can think of many reasons of its fall but all companies make mistakes and MySpace had to pay dearly for theirs. I don't think anyone can predict how much marketing mistakes will cost Facebook. i want to conclude my thought by saying that Facebook is entering maturity and the fashion for this social network is diminishing and it means that the company will have to redirect their efforts to attracting new and sustaining old users which is going to be a completely new game.
Google+ or Google's latest attempt to Build a Social Network
Now you now that Google has the Orkut social network but I am quite sure you have never used it. Also, I think you might have missed on Google's another social service called Buzz which has never become popular. Same applies to the Wave service. The company has quite a stockpile of social skeletons we have forgotten about. This knowledge allows me to say that the latest Google+ project has every chance to fail. There is always a possibility of failure. But I actually expect this social network to succeed. I must note that the size, number of users and other parameters are subject to endless discussions what I mean is that this service might become Facebook's nightmare and offer users completely new opportunities. Currently, Google+ is going through beta-testing so it is facing tasks different from the tasks of the existing market players.
I don't like to extrapolate my personal experience onto assessment of products and services but in this case I believe that my social networking experience might be useful. My main social service is Twitter Ц I always read my feeds, talk with people and I like always being in the picture of what is going on in the world. My twits then automatically synced with my Facebook account. Facebook for me is not a place for communicating but merely a pied-a-terre Ц I have too many subscribers and too little time to browse all the pages so I only read personal messages people send me when they want to contact me and are do not want their messages to get lost in my mailbox. I cannot get real communication going on Facebook and I merely use it as just another tool for my work. If I were living in the US I probably could not do without a LinkedIn account. Fortunately, I already have all the work contacts I will ever need as well as work to do so I have refrained from getting extra communicative burden. I have also ignored such service as Foursquare because I don't think that this service will survive on its own Ц it is complimentary to the existing networks (Facebook, Twitter). Who needs a separate geotagging service apart from other social activities? The existing social services show that it is very easy to bring Foursquare down. I also think that image hostings separate from other social services are pointless (the Instagram example shows that people are interested in pictures on Twitter/Facebook not the social networks on their own).
For many reasons I am happy that I have never been a member of any of the Russian social networks like Odnoklassniki or Vkontakte.
From what I have been saying you might think that Twitter is the best social network or social service. But this is not true. From my point of view there are two best social networks: Twitter and Facebook and all the other services lack something, most importantly, the others lack an idea. In case of Twitter we have an SMS format and in case of Facebook we might have lengthy discussions that resemble forums in a social media plane.
This is where we get to Google+ who offers the simplicity of both Facebook and Twitter in one package and expands the package of free services users will get. It is a next generation social network brilliant in its simplicity and thus doomed to become popular.
How Google+ Works
You can only become a member of Google+ through an invite. Google favors this approach because it allows assessing the initial popularity of the service on the one hand and steadily expanding the service maintenance like servers, channels etc. This approach is not new and though some Google+ skeptics consider it a downside of the service they just fail to remember that it has been used many times in the past. I think it was a right move and all who applied for an invite will anyway receive it shortly in a matter of a few days or maybe weeks. The company used the same scenario with Gmail.
Google has attempted to visualize our circles of communication and the concept of Circles is the cornerstone of the entire service. You add people to this or that circle and no one but you alone can see how you distribute your contacts Ц a simple and a very convenient approach. You can read posts of contacts you are subscribed to or view only messages of a certain circle. You can add absolutely any user to your circles regardless of your relationship with him Ц you add people unilaterally and there is no need for a contact's confirmation.
I positively loved that the circles are visualized and to add a person into a circle you drag and drop his icon into a circle Ц it is a brilliant psychological solution.
You may create your own feeds to get the latest info on stuff that matters to you (they are basically search requests). This service is called Sparks Ц you search for keywords and then just save the results to a feed.
Google took it seriously this time and Google+ is already integrated with all the other Google services Ц in the top right corner you see the message and events icon. Moreover, you don't need to go the Google+ webpage to write a message you only need to open the drop down window Ц very convenient.
Google+ also incorporates many other Google services and in the future there will be more of them. So far there is no integration with Google Docs and Google Calendar but they will soon be available. I loved the image hosting service. I remind you that Google has the Picasa service which very interesting on its own. All Google+ users receive unlimited picture and HD video storage. Well, there is a limit: all pictures uploaded to Google+ are automatically scaled to 2048 pixels (the longest side) and there is a 15 minutes limit or videos. But you can download your pictures in whole albums so this downside is not critical. There are quite a few of little downers but I disregard them so far Ц Google+ is just being born. This image hosting service integrated into a social network is going to be a heavy blow for Flikr.
Google+ application will be preinstalled on every Android phone in the future and this dramatically raises the chances for success. Google is expecting a million Android devices activations a day in October Ц a simple calculation will tell us that in 2012 the potential market of Google+ will exceed 400 million of unique users. Astounding.
The Google+ app will automatically upload pictures from your phone to your web album and then you will be able to attach them to your posts and messages and share them with your circles.
All Google+ services are free including video conference calls. This Skype service is widely used by both big and small companies and I am sure Skype will have to cut down the price for it or make it free.
Smartphones with the Google+ app (also available for iPhone) will be able to create private or group chats. This is an alternative for regular SMS and I see it as an analogue of iMessage.
Google+ offers lots of services and it looks very simple which is a huge advantage. The design and the speediness of Google+ are its strong points or at least they are so far. This article was not meant to review all the features of this service Ц you can easily get all the info on its capabilities. I just want to invite you to a discussion of who is going to win in the clash of the social networks. Today we observe the birth of an actual Facebook's competitor. I see a lot of potential in Google+ and I think it is already attractive and will not have the fate of the unfortunate Buzz. Google+ might be able to make it Ц this social network is interesting, comprehensible and useful. I have already come up with an idea how to organize circles into work projects and this is only the top of the iceberg. In the future there will be tons of new features and unlike other companies that feed us only with promises Google+ is already operable and a lot of fun. I must say I am impressed. I invite you to join me on Google+, you can easily find me Ц just search for Eldar Murtazin. And, yes, Google+ is a true nightmare for Facebook.
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Published 07 July 2011
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