Co-dependency In The Age of Facebook

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It’s hard to imagine that there is a Facebook killer somewhere around the next tech innovation, but there probably is.

Granted, in the end, it won’t look much like a “killer” but probably closer to something new, shiny and different that has enough new whiz bang boom to garner attention. Many thought that this was what would become of Twitter. It just seemed so much easier and simpler than the more complex neediness of Facebook. Who couldn’t create a 140-character message? Twitter was (and still is) a much more mobile-friendly experience. On top of that, it’s easy to add, find and share with friends, and there was something about the limitation of the message that made the barrier to entry fairly low (even though many who jump on the Twitter bandwagon find themselves struggling to understand how to find and follow people while grappling with the new language of hashtags, retweets and URL shorteners). What we’ve learned in the online social networking world of Facebook and Twitter is that there is more co-dependency between the two platforms than walled gardens that users are not allowed to cross.

The truth is that it’s hard to beat Facebook at this point.

With over 750 million registered users that cross all demographics, psychographics and gender, one could argue that Facebook is an Internet unto itself. Yes, there is some fatigue (a few weeks back, Inside Facebook – an organization that reports on everything Facebook – showed that there was either a plateau effect or a decline in the number of new accounts being created in places like the U.S., Canada, UK, etc…). Yes, many people (and some governments) still have a bug about Facebook and their privacy settings. Yes, with anything this big there are many thousands of people who still complain and gripe about the service. But, for all of those warts, many people are heavily invested in the platform (and I’m not talking about those who are waiting for Facebook’s pending IPO). People like you and I have created our social circles within Facebook, we’ve spent time nurturing our profiles, updating our status, linking our social graphs together, uploading pictures, tagging them, following events and more. We’re there. Our friends are there, and not being there leaves us – somewhat – out of social loop.

Twitter seems to augment the Facebook experience and vice-versa and that’s where the interesting business applications kick in.

Last week, Google launched a brand new online social network called, Google +. Currently, it’s a closed environment that can only be accessed if you’re invited, and by the looks of the online chatter, Google is allowing people with significant Social Media experience in first to see how it stands up, performs and gets chatted about prior to opening the flood gates for all to use. There is widespread skepticism about Google’s ability to be successful in the online social networking space. In the past, they’ve made strong attempts with Orkut, Wave and Buzz but the overall results paled in comparison to the success of Twitter or Facebook. With Google + users can create “circles” that allow them to segment their connections (i.e. friends, family, co-workers, etc…), they can follow or create an area of shared interest called a “spark” (let’s say you’re into Thai cuisine or mixed martial arts or eating Thai cuisine while watching mixed martial arts), you can share your images or even create a live get-together known as a “hangout,” and the integration between the Web and mobile experience looks seamless (with the one exception being that the iPhone app is not available yet).

So, how does Google + stack up?

They’ve clearly learned from what Facebook and Twitter have done to keep people engaged, and the platform is simple and easy to navigate and connect with. Will it be a Facebook killer? My general motto is “everything is ‘with’ not ‘instead of’,” but with so much similar functionality, it’s hard to believe that the average user will feel the need to have two environments that ultimately do the same thing: allow me to creep on my friends, family and co-workers. On top of that, users will have to feel that Google + is so superior that it’s worthy or rebuilding all of the connections that have already been consummated in the Facebook platform. From the businessperson’s perspective, it’s important to know and play with Google + (if you’re lucky enough to get an invite or once it opens up for the general masses) as the audiences and the type of engagement that happen in different online social networks is usually unique to the platform (i.e. the discussion around some of my Blog posts is very different when you compare the comments section of the Blog to Twitter and then to Facebook). Much like LinkedIn is skewed towards the business professional, the types of people who engage in Google + may be very different from the average Facebook user (but only time will tell). Google + would be much more interesting if it was co-dependent on Facebook. While that may sound like heresy, just imagine if you could port your information and data from one to another and the stuff that Google + does would augment your Facebook experience (or vice-versa).

In a world of co-opertition (competition + cooperation), it may be Google’s best play at actually slaying the Facebook giant.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:


  1. From what I’ve read and heard, what will keep people coming back to Google+ after the new car smell wears off is Hangouts… it might prove really useful for example for people working from home who want to keep in touch with colleagues at the office. But then again we need to see what Facebook will unveil tomorrow.
    Nice post. By the way… any invites left Mitch? 😉

  2. Mitch,
    I followed along with your explanation of co-dependence between the various Social Media platforms. I appreciate your perspective and ability to simplify the ideas so well. I learned stuff, thanks.
    So, I was surprised when I got to your last point where you suggested Google+ should slay the dragon of Facebook. It kind of flew in the face of the rest of your post. I actually agreed with everything up to that point. Personally, I believe that the best thing that can happen to Facebook, in particular, is to have “plug-ins” enhancing the user experience, just as Twitter does in your example.
    So, you confirmed some of my existing positions and swayed me with some of your arguments in the rest of the post. However, you’ve got your work cut out for you to justify why Google+’s best strategy is to replace Facebook. See if you can do it with 140 characters or less 😉 [meant entirely in a good-naturedly way]
    In all seriousness, I want to acknowledge, again, that I am benefitting a great deal from your work in sharing your blog posts, your podcasts (which could be both longer and more frequent) and your personal appearances. I don’t imagine that I, personally, will ever have a need for the types of services that Twist Image provides. However, it doesn’t stop me from excitedly sharing your posts and spreading your brand as a small repayment for your “services rendered” to your “friends” for free.

  3. I think you’re mis-reading my last line. I actually agree with you and say that the play for Google to “beat” Facebook may not be in creating a competitive platform but working together in a world of co-dependancy and seeing what the outcome is. If Google does that well, to me that is how they may be able to “beat them.”

  4. Mitch, forgive me for this minor aside, but I am SO glad you’re linking to your social media accounts instead of the generic domain. It just makes me feel a whole lot better, somehow.
    (By the way, I’m re-reading your Book and I’ve suddenly realized I’m a digital marketing agency in miniature. All of my clients are down this line, and it’s fascinating. I’m connecting with the Book a lot more the second time around, because my business is literally taking off.)
    And if Marketing should be capitalized, so should Books about Marketing, right? 😉

  5. Trout and Reis 30 years ago told us that once your idea spread in the market and you end up owning a piece in the mind of the prospect, it’s almost impossible to replace it. Like Coca Cola–almost impossible to defeat. Facebook has clearly achieved this type of brand status. Add with that the massive network effects involved with having 750 millions users and the idea of killing Facebook is silly…the only thing left is to see if anyone can create a new category that offers a very different experience…will be interesting to see if Google+ does this.

  6. Mitch,
    I’ve made similar comments myself regarding the use of Google+: it won’t beat Facebook. Likewise, though; Facebook will not beat Google+. It seems that neither of these two are willing to be beaten in any aspect. They will continue to push each other until one or the other makes a mistake or fades from the interest of the population.
    Competing markets can exist, despite popular opinion.
    Apple and Microsoft coexist. Target and Wal-Mart coexist. This competition is seen throughout every industry known in the business world. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. I think that people are making the mistake in not treating these as business enterprises. MySpace’s downfall had far more to do with their execution than with anyone beating them.
    Does that make sense?

  7. I’m still awaiting my invite. Any minute now. But seriously, I’m new to social media and I’m very excited about google plus. While I like and use Facebook, I can see it quickly becoming the next myspace if it doesn’t better respect privacy. I get that privacy is the price paid for the service, but overall I think even really big companies can fail if they don’t put the consumer first. While maybe most people don’t care about privacy, I think that Google has shown more warmth towards recognizing its users are people and not merely avatars. As you alluded to, some countries are fearing facebook and this is probably for good reason. The amount of control that they have over the rights to human communication and interconnectedness seems like they should have some basic bill of rights that doesn’t change at whim, one that is greater than the power of any advancements in technology or advertising. Just my two cents. Thanks for all your great posts and podcasts.

  8. We all use Facebook, but does anyone “like” it?
    Though imperfect as a measure, customer satisfaction of Facebook last year (64) actually ranked below the airline industry as a whole (65) according to ACSI. Anxious to see new results due in July.
    I don’t envision a significant shift in behavior simply as a result of something shiny and new. But with a current score of 64, it doesn’t seem that too many of us are hitting the ‘like’ button about our social media experience on Facebook. Curious if this is simply a result of misaligned expectations, or an opportunity for a platform that provides a more satisfying experience.
    I really like the co-dependence idea in a world where, sadly, a single new idea instantly yields a dozen or more copycats even among established properties.

  9. I am looking forward to the drop and drag groups function. There are some things that I simply don’t want everyone to read and facebook makes groups difficult to use. You are likely correct though since even grandmother in her 80’s knows how to use facebook, it’s unlikely that google will offer a large enough incentive to switch everything. It may happen slowly unless facebook does something about the privacy issues and adopts friendly “groups” and “hangouts”

  10. I actually do think there is a Facebook killer and that is Facebook itself.
    As it does battle with Google – they can make a choice. Choose well and they can prosper but I fear in their arrogance they will stumble.
    I explain it in this Ad Age piece: “Why Google Plus is the best thing for Facebook.”
    Judy Shapiro

  11. I have asked this many times on a few blogs now. Why do we NEED another social network? I am still caught up on the fact that Google wants to own all of our data and when Facebook is dominating they need to create the next best thing.
    There isn’t anything really wrong with Facebook other than privacy settings which if you work in he web world we know as a fallacy.
    I know the Android created another Google opportunity with everyone creating an account but of everyone using the Android how many of them actually use Google products religiously and how many are just trying to figure out Facebook? (Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers.) Why do we need another social network to figure out?

  12. It seems like each platform has its merits. I like the circles. I’ve felt that need in Facebook, between highschool chums, business, community, family including my kids – it’s hard to make posts relevant and not just irritating for everyone at once.
    I think I will see this platform have its uses in the way Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning and Skype all do now. As a matter of fact the ‘International Book Club’ is looking at switching from Skype to G+. Hopefully it will not have the flushing toilet background noise with overseas calls.

  13. The world is a waiting for the Facebook killer. We have an uneasy relationship with Facebook. There’s something off and we can’t quite put our finger on it.
    I like to think of Facebook as a dodgy boyfriend. We don’t trust them. They don’t care about us as much as they should. We know they’re only in it for the money. And we have no idea where the intimate photos they have of us will end up…
    And as for us? If we’re honest we’ll admit we don’t really like them but we know they’re the best we can do right now. So we tolerate them, all the while waiting and hoping that something better comes along.
    Facebook having 750 million members will not save it when the next big thing comes along. 750 million connected users? That should speed things up. Watch it spread like a virus through Facebook.
    How many of your Facebook friends moving to another network would it take before you followed? Me? I have just over 100 friends but if 3 or 4 of my closest friends moved – I’d go.
    The reason everyone uses Facebook is because everyone is using Facebook. That’s it. Nothing else. We don’t like them, we don’t trust them and we’re all waiting for the next big thing.
    Is Google+ it? I don’t know but I hope so. I’ll definitely be watching this space.

  14. The next killer app is one that permits the importation into Google+ of all of your facebook information.
    Linkedin survives because it is targeted. I know that when I open that screen I am getting “business” contact information. Facebook tried to redefine the word “friend” and therein lies the challenge…we never had ownership through choice. If Google+ is giving us engagement by actually caring about what we want (privacy, segmentation, etc..) then I suggest that the trickle can become a tsunami if Facebook does not wakeup. FB has become like big brother…accepted as the controller of the information…until someone comes along and remembers that we are in the age of the democratization of things, not the dictation of how to be.

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