Thursday, August 25, 2011

Innovation is the Key

With a great deal of fanfare (somewhat overshadowed by the unusual East coast earthquake) Facebook announced a round of major enhancements allowing subscribers to better control their content and protect their privacy. Popular opinion, of course, was that they went to all this trouble to stave off the upstart Google Plus where the Pluserati are quick to point out your privacy is job #1.

Facebook are reacting to a small but vocal portion of their subscribers and the media who put a huge spin on these concerns and somehow manage to inflate them to massive proportions making them "real issues.". The vast majority of FB users are perfectly happy to post their birthday photos and ski trips so their friends and family can view and comment on them.

Arguably, the Google Plus "circles" concept might be easier to understand and less confusing than the more traditional group construct. But at the end of the day, you really have no more or less security over your content. It is still ultimately up to you to manage who can see what you post.

These structural changes and whatever Google Plus responds with are largely irrelevant. Apart from generating more buzz, keeping the software developers busy and keeping the rivalry alive and kicking, they will serve no real purpose. I would sorely like to see some hard metrics around adoption rates or changes in the switching rate between these services attributable to these changes. It will be a minor blip at best.

Having just hit one trillion page views per month I can't understand what Facebook is concerned about. But if they are looking for more growth or simply want to enhance "stickiness," encouraging current subscribers to  come back more often and spend more time on the site, then they must truly innovate. Introducing more approval steps and menus of controls over your content is likely to annoy or confuse more people than it will please.And it does not make the site more attractive.

Let's be honest. Early adopters flocked to Google Plus because it was new not because they thought it was more secure. The invitation only access made it cool to be one of the insiders, and it did stuff none of the other social networks did. To compete, Facebook or any of the other services must continue to introduce new and exciting capabilities.

Here is a great example. Ticketmaster now gives you the ability to know where your Facebook friends are sitting when you are buying tickets. This is new and fresh, and creates a compelling reason for people to use these two services and to want their friends to use them as well.

Google Hangouts, the unique Google Plus video chat feature, is being used in all kinds of new and genuinely novel ways. Hangouts have allowed people to interact in completely new settings including interactive concerts and the virtual newsroom couch.

True innovations like these will create that stickiness and cohesion needed to attract new users and preserve the core subscriber group.

Captain Joe

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