Facebook is the king of the hill when it comes to social networks, but it faces growing competition from a couple of old foes. Google is rampantly trying to play catch up in the social networking space, while Twitter seems to have a new-found motivation for improvement. There is news out about Facebook's strategy (which interestingly enough is reminiscent of Google's overall strategy for the last decade: acquisitions, acquisitions, acquisitions.
What should Facebook acquire to maintain its edge? Tell us what you think.
A new report out from Bloomberg says that Facebook is planning to make about 20 acquisitions this year, which would be twice as many as last year. This isn't a rumor. It's straight from Facebook's director of corporate development Vaughan Smith.
The company has already made 13 acquisitions this year, according to Bloomberg. These include: Mac app maker Sofa, mobile app creator Snaptu, group chat company Beluga, mobile ad company Rel8tion, and iPad app maker Push Pop Press. Such acquisitions are line with Facebook's plans to focus on design and mobile, as Smith indicated in the report.
There is a lot more to maintaining a solid user experience and keeping people engaged than just piling on the acquisitions. It's what is done with the acquisitions, and what features are added (or kept or removed) that keep people around. It's also partnerships and the developer ecosystem that make things interesting, fun or worthwhile.
This week, Miramax announced a new Facebook app that could very well pave the way for the future of movie-based entertainment on the social network. Other movie studios have experimented with Facebook movie rental, but Miramax, working directly with Facebook itself has come up with a whole new concept for this, including plans for purchasing and digital storage.
Facebook is also expected to get more music-oriented with the help of a handful of partners. The recent U.S. launch of the popular Spotify may play a critical role in that.
While Facebook faces plenty of obstacles on the competition front, it's also facing others on the legal front. And I'm not talking about the Winklevii or Paul Ceglia. The "like" button has essentially been outlawed in Germany. But that's a whole other story.
The Google Threat
A couple months back, Google unveiled what might turn out to be Facebook's biggest rival to its core business of social networking. Though there have been reports of slowing growth, initial growth of the service has been huge compared to rivals Facebook and Twitter for the amount of time it's been out, and it's still in invitation-only mode. But yeah, yeah, yeah…we've talked about all of this plenty of times before.
What we haven't talked about quite as much is Google's launch of games for Google+. Games keep a large amount of Facebook's users engaged, and there's no reason not to assume they will have a similar effect on Google+ users as well - especially considering that Google+ has the popular Angry Birds, and a handful of games from Zynga - the maker of some of the most popular titles on Facebook.
You also have to keep in mind that Google's only going to keep integrating facets of Google+ with other Facets of the overall Google experience, which has a whole lot more users than Google+ itself. For example, Google+ posts are coming to Gmail:
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Google also started adding Google+ posts to Google search results. On top of that, Google profiles (the backbone of any user's Google+ account) are only going to continue to be more visible in the search results. Think about how many people use Google search. Google is pushing its authorship markup to webmasters and content producers (a future ranking signal, by the way). When this is used, authors of content show up with little images in the search results that stand out. When these are clicked, they go to that author's Google profile. Expect to see more and more of these as more people adopt this markup.
Google also started including a Google+ hangouts feature right on YouTube video pages. Think about how many people watch videos on YouTube. Ok, don't even think about it. Just look at these numbers from comScore:
Now think about how often people share YouTube videos. This feature lets people not only share the videos but watch them together.
These are just a handful of some of the more recent things Google has been doing with Google+. Nevermind that they're pushing to make Google TV more appealing to consumers and are in the running for an acquisition of Hulu (think about the possibilities).
Oh, and Google's not too shy about acquisitions either. You may recall recent news of the proposed acquisition of Motorola Mobility. Facebook is putting more focus on mobile?
The Twitter Threat
Long before Google+ was even conceived of, there was another Facebook rival in town that went by the name of Twitter. While it has built its popularity up over the years, it was not until the return of co-founder Jack Dorsey earlier this year that the company really started kicking things up a notch.
One of the most significant things that has happened since then is Twitter's addition of its own photo sharing feature. Then another major development occurred just this week, as the company announced user image galleries, which give people a place to simply go and look at all of a user's pictures.
If you think about Facebook or Google+, this seems like a basic feature of a successful social network. Photos are a big part of the experience. Yet, Twitter has managed to be as successful as it is without this kind of functionality.
Now that users will have this kind of functionality, they will get a new dimension to their Twitter experience, and many will likely engage more with the service. As discussed in a recent article, it seems like the young are trending toward more Twitter use (and for some of them, perhaps a little less Facebook). I would not be surprised to see this new functionality continue to fuel that.
Twitter has also given webmasters and businesses more reason to maintain a good Twitter presence. Twitter referrals are now easier to track in analytics. All links over 20 characters are wrapped in Twitter's t.co URL shotener, whether they are posted on Twitter.com or any Twitter client. As a result, analytics programs will recognize URLs as coming from t.co as opposed to TweetDeck, or some other client (hat tip to TheNextWeb on that one).
Another major, major thing Twitter has going for it is that it will be heavily integrated into iOS 5, the operating system that will power Apple's iPhones and iPads when its launched this fall. From Apple:
iOS 5 makes it even easier to tweet from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Sign in once in Settings, and suddenly you can tweet directly from Safari, Photos, Camera, YouTube, or Maps. Want to mention or @reply to a friend? Contacts applies your friends’ Twitter usernames and profile pictures. So you can start typing a name and iOS 5 does the rest. You can even add a location to any tweet, no matter which app you’re tweeting from.
Right now, Facebook is still king.
While it's true that Facebook does face growing competition for social networking eyeballs, it's not in any immediate danger of losing a substantial amount of its user base. Millions of people are still using Facebook every single day and often throughout the day. Considering that, webmasters and businesses should consider some other recent developments.
How about this infographic from KISSmetrics, which looks at the timing of Facebook posts:
If you have Facebook apps, it's worth noting that Facebook last week put out its guidelines for social design, which are worth a perusal.
Facebook has been filtering the news feed (even when sorted by most recent, without the user actually hiding people), and they're expected to launch an unfiltered version. The ticker concept has already been spotted numerous times in testing. This shows posts roll in in realtime on the right side of the screen separate from the news feed itself. The point is, you may soon find that the visibility of your updates will go up dramatically.
In the news feed itself, Facebook has already been grouping posts by topics. If two or more of your friends mention a certain brand in a post, that brand will get some special treatment in the news feed. More on that here.
It's also worth noting just how much traffic the search engines are sending to Facebook Pages. Search Engine Land looks at a study from PageLever indicating that 27% of referral traffic to Facebook Pages comes from Google. I wonder how much more we'll see those Google profiles stand out in Google results, especially once the brand pages roll out. Will that take away from brands' Facebook page traffic (which means Facebook's traffic)?
Is Facebook in danger of losing its social network dominance? Tell us what you think.