Thursday, May 29, 2008

Social Networking Big Dog: Facebook or Google?

I just finished Day 1 at Google I/O, and the experience compelled me to write a sequel to my previous "Open Source Big Dog: Red Hat or Sun?" post.

So my second "Big Dog" question is simple:

Who is the social networking big dog?

The answer really boils down to Facebook vs. Google.

I know, I know...I can hear the screams of what about My5, what about HiSpace, what about....just stop...please stop!

Recent events CLEARLY point to the fact that the fight is between the two masters of social kung fu: Facebook and Google.

OK, enough kung foolery...let me get serious and start my explanation.

I was very impressed by the turnout at Google I/O (Google's 2 day developer conference). If anyone doubted Google's commitment to developers, then Google I/O should firmly prove that they understand the value of developers.

Being an old time Java guy who worked at Bluestone Software and JBoss, I couldn't help but feel that Google's conference had the same type of energy and raw excitement that the original JavaOne conferences had back in the early days. The sessions had a decent amount of ad-hoc demos and unscripted moments; they were clearly not pre-approved, hermetically sealed or highly polished...which is a good thing!

The comparison with JavaOne gets even more interesting if you consider how Google and its OpenSocial compatriots (Bebo,, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, mixi, MySpace, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo,, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING) are ganging up on Facebook.

This soooooo feels like Sun and its Java Community Process members ganging up on Microsoft in the late 1990's.

Why is Google rallying the troops against Facebook? Well, if we look at the latest growth stats for the top 10 social networking sites in the US, Facebook continues to put up HUGE numbers with 98% growth from March 2007 to March 2008. They clearly have strong momentum. And my guess is that even Steve Ballmer would be impressed with the number of developers that Mark Zuckerberg and team have been able to attract to the Facebook platform.

Since Google really really needs an open (and crawlable and indexable and searchable and monetizable) Internet, it is not surprising that they have taken a page from Sun's playbook. Google, with its OpenSocial foundation, is preaching the values of openness and "write once run anywhere". And since Facebook is not part of OpenSocial and is not open source, Google is calling out the walled-garden Facebook platform as closed and therefore not as good...much like Microsoft was and continues to be painted by Sun and others as closed (i.e. not part of the Java Community Process...and not relevant in open source).

Unlike Microsoft, however, Facebook appears to be taking bold steps towards shedding its "closed" image: Facebook To Open Source Facebook Platform

If Facebook does indeed open source its platform, it will be sending a strong message to the market that it does not plan on relinquishing its leadership and momentum to Google or anybody else.

And as Bob Bickel wrote in his latest blog post: "For the true power of the Social Web to be delivered, there will need to be more steps toward openness."

Why? Because openness helps accelerate the market and gets vendors focused on delivering value to customers rather than duplicating efforts on base infrastructure. It will also help the smaller Facebook continue to compete against the much bigger Google and friends.

So, who is the social networking big dog?
At this point in time, the power of the superpoke goes to:

They've got the lead and they have strong momentum.
BUT...don't count Google out! After all, the game is really just starting.

And for those interested in who I'd like to see win the battle between these big dogs? Neither. I want them both to continue to compete and succeed, which will further accelerate the market for everyone involved. Moreover, at Ringside Networks, our Social Application Server provides compatibility for both Facebook and OpenSocial, so I see Facebook and Google as important partners in this fascinating and fun corner of the software market.


ElvawinRainbow said...

First off let me offer condolences on your Java background *offers a hug*, I made a comment over on Bob Bickel's blog about Facebook' s current attitude being all about the money; nuff said. Ido envy you being so closely involved in what's likely to be a fascinating aspect of the web 2.0 to 3.0 transition space. It's going to be fascinating to see what happens let alone be involved in it directly.

My money is on the Open Social group though, despite facebook's numbers, because it IS a social environment. Most of the people involved don't care about the platform, the technology the cool name - they like what it lets them do; Communicate with like minded people, friends even enemies!
And that means the easier it is for them the more they will like it. I don't wan't to go to hi5,facebook,myspace,friendfeed whatever, I want something that lets me create subsets of friends based on interest or ideals or a group I party with and communicate with them regardless where they are. H*** I can't even keep up with scanning the rss feeds I subscribe to for work let alone go to nine different sites to make sure I stay in touch with everyone I know.

(btw I promise I'll get around to doing more with my ringside install when I have time. Maybe I'll try to interconnect all my groups in a cohesive manner and share the method with everyone, or sell it to somebody Though I do promise I'd never sell to MZ, he'd make it FB only

Good Luck at and to Ringside

Shaun Connolly said...

ElvawinRainbow, thanks for the Java condolences. :-)

Your point re: OpenSocial is a good one. This is why I said "BUT...don't count Google out!". Facebook has a lot of momentum right now, but Google has done a great job rallying troops in support of OpenSocial. And as an open source guy, I know how powerful an open and motivated community can be.

The next couple of years will surely be fun.

Josh Aronowitz said...

I agree it should be an interesting next few years to watch how all this plays out; however, I definitely think that social networking moving to business is also a huge trend. Sites like that are integrating Web 2.0 networks with services like free CRM and contact management, free teleconferencing, etc. are going to proliferate and become increasingly popular. Probably aiding in the increased interest in google "team members." Interesting topic.