Mid-Year 2009 Predictions for the Future of Social Media

Periodically, I try to lay out my predictions on the future of social media, particularly as it relates to social media marketing. Half-way through calendar year 2009 seems like a good time to talk about the latest, particularly as two recent moves by major web properties haven’t gotten the mainstream attention they will soon deserve. So while I only have two predictions today, they are significant.

  1. Facebook’s recent adjustment to their privacy settings spell the beginning of the end for Twitter; and
  2. Google Wave will turn social media into a true two-way conversation for the first time (if it’s widely adopted).

Facebook is About to Kill Twitter

For a while there, it seemed that Twitter’s explosive growth rate meant it was a serious threat to Facebook. It is certainly the media darling right now for all that is shiny about social media. With Facebook soon to allow status updates to be shared with everyone, they are yet another step closer to Twitter’s public lifestreaming capabilities. But they do better than Twitter in that area, in that you can share photos, videos or articles more descriptively on Facebook than you can on Twitter.

Plus, Facebook has made several moves to supporting APIs. It’s always been the open API abilities of Twitter that facilitated the dialogue on that site. (Let’s face it, it’s certainly not the below average Twitter web interface.) Put it all together and Facebook will soon be offering:

  • Status updates that are more interesting (i.e., embedded photos, videos, articles) than Twitter’s link-only structure;
  • APIs that allow TweetDeck like interfaces for Facebook updates;
  • A significantly larger user base (200m+ for Facebook, roughly 10m+ for Twitter);
  • Brand new Facebook usernames that now make it easier to know who is who.

[UPDATE (8/11/09): Yesterday, Facebook bought FriendFeed. Today, they began rolling out global search of wall posts. These are steps 5 and 6 on their quest to making Twitter superfluous…]

Looking it in that context, Facebook’s string of recent announcements make a lot of sense. What might come next? I’m guessing it’s the ability to “follow” only the public status updates from a person, but not be “friends” with that person.

Under that sort of construct, Twitter suddenly becomes superfluous. And Facebook gets one step closer to their ultimate goal of being THE default social profile for the web. A great plan. All they have to do now is figure out how to monetize it, as just managing the site today reportedly costs a couple hundred million per year.

Google Wave is the Next Big Thing

People ask me all the time, “Twitter’s hot now. But what’s next?” That was a tough question to answer until I discovered Google Wave. Google Wave can do a lot of things (you can watch their 1:20:00 minute video embedded at the end of the post if you want the full details), but the real value to me is it’s ability to manage conversations (“waves”) across multiple platforms (email, SMS, social network, blogs).

To date, the promise of Web 2.0 is the ability to have conversations. And you can. But tracking and managing many conversations is incredibly difficult. How many times have you left a comment on a blog and then gone back to check others response to your comments? Not often. Who can keep up with all that?

Plus, with no real dialogue, commenting on a blog can often feel like a thankless activity, which is why it seems to me that over the last 6 months, leaving a comment on a blog has dramatically decreased. It’ s much more common today in our space at least to Tweet a good post than to comment on it.

Google Wave can change all that. Picture that you have a new inbox. But instead of a dumb email inbox that ignores threads of conversations, all responses to your note show up in one place. It’s a lot like what Gmail does now. But now imagine that a comment you leave on a blog post is from your Google Wave account. When someone else leaves a comment, it shows up in a thread in your inbox. If you respond to that, it automatically posts back to the blog, without you even having to go back to the original post.

Or imagine having a conversation (wave) with your friend. She sends you pictures from your ski trip. In a click of a button, you push those into their own new Wave, give them a subject line, and some descriptive text and then hit “publish”. Your wave is now a blog post. You can also email it to friends, and perhaps even text it to your brother. All the responses come back into your Wave.

Now we’re having a conversation. This becomes your default conversation manager.

Will it take off? Google kicked if off nicely at their recent developers conference (to much applause), and it’s open source, which should encourage more creative integration. If it catches on, we all may need to have a Google Wave account (Google’s end game), and having one may simplify things for us a great deal.

The Coming Battle Between Facebook and Google

The one problem with these predictions is that they put Google and Facebook on a collision course. The end goal of both efforts is to become our default social profile. Unless someone does a clever mash up of Google Wave’s functionality with Facebook’s social profile (hey, there’s an idea for someone!), it will be difficult for them to both reach the natural end game they each desire. But that’s my last prediction: get ready to watch an epic battle.

Google Wave Explained

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  • BrianGracely
    Posted at 14:01h, 06 July

    Jim – While it’s always interesting to predict winners & losers, I don’t think now is the time to start turning the social media landscape into a bunch of binary decisions. Facebook is taking a very Microsoft Office approach to their service, lumping all possible options into a single service. Twitter continues to expand their distributed approach, keeping the core value simple and easy to understand.

    1 – The UI doesn’t really matter. Craigslist is quite successful with text only. Where UI will matter is for the mobile applications and devices.
    2 – Facebook’s friend-synchronous-relationship model is going to be difficult to uncouple even with the new features.
    3 – Facebook has a completely different cost structure, which will continue to weigh them down (not to mention the limited IPO market; continuous outflow of execs; etc.)

    They will both have their place for several years, but I see them moving in different directions rather than moving towards convergence. Twitter is about real-time knowledge (business, culture, consumer, etc.) sharing. Facebook is about sharing semi real-time friend information.

  • Samraat Kakkar
    Posted at 17:55h, 06 July

    There is no doubt that Facebook is trying to challenge Twitter. And twitter does need to evolve itself to built increased engagement from new users who tend to leave twitter after the first login. However, can facebook create the same impact on our social habits? Facebook is about your past & present while Twitter is about prospecting thus the future.

    Google wave can surely change the dynamics of social media conversations. Only time can tell if google wave can create the expected impact & penetration.

  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 20:23h, 06 July

    Good points Brian, particularly #2.

    Both of these points only come true if they win mindshare as “that’s what you use to do X.” That’s going to be the challenge. But tactically, I think they’re in a really interesting place by the moves they’ve made in the last 6 months.

  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 20:25h, 06 July

    Samraat, I think it’s interesting that you say Twitter is about “prospecting.” I’ve never thought of it that way. I’ve thought of it for information sharing, breaking news, lifestreaming, but never prospecting (at least not overtly). Curious what you mean by that.

    And yes, it would be easier for you to answer that if we were using Wave right now…

  • veeple
    Posted at 00:48h, 07 July

    Hi Jim –

    Thoughtful post and a great video on Google Wave. I, for one, have been thinking for quite a long time about a way to link all the conversations going on at the same time and have one, intuitive interface over the top. Now if we could take that concept and apply it to the marketing mix problem, then that would be huge.

    Also, I tend to align with Brian philosophically as related to things not always being viewed in a binary fashion.

    Nice to have found you.

    Scott Broomfield

  • BrianGracely
    Posted at 03:09h, 08 July

    Jim – The more I think about this from the perspective of your business, the more it seems like the question to ask yourself is, “How do I help a client design a strategy that can shift from the #1 or #2 service (or both) today to the next #1 or #2 services quickly?”

    Blogging – 2005
    MySpace – 2006
    Facebook – 2007
    Twitter – 2008
    Google Wave – 2009
    Next Big Thing – 2010 (hint: it will be mobile-centric)

    It’s not that these services will go away, but their peak will most likely only last for a couple years and the next buzz will come along. So how do you design a client strategy that (a) gets them to understand that social media is not a medium, but rather a new operating model, and (b) there will be switching costs every 18 months and that they will need to be willing to make some brand and community modifications as the services adapt and change.

    Seems like there is an analogy to a stock market portfolio here. Trying to pick winners is high risk. Trying to build a portfolio has long-run potential.

  • Samraat Kakkar
    Posted at 06:11h, 08 July

    Hi Brian

    Thats a very interesting perspective that you have shared.

    However, do we actually anticipate the fundamentals changing in digital space? My guess is that it won’t happen till there is a big leap in technology & accessibility.

    If fundamentals don’t change, then its only a question of next big platform and content creation for the platform. The platform may also require some client specific customization. But the cost here is similar to what the client pays for advertising campaigns from time to time.

    The bigger concern is client’s ability to understand digital space as an environment & not as a media to deliver tactical campaign.

  • davereinhardt
    Posted at 14:35h, 08 July

    Your comments on Wave got me thinking as to whether I can imagine my organisation deploying it as a collaborative platform. The key issue (for us) is one of data security and Wave’s ability to be privately hosted. It’s the baseline for entry, and that makes it one of the killer features.

    I wrote a blog entry about it here http://davereinhardt.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/why-google-wave-will-conquer-the-enterprise/

  • BrianGracely
    Posted at 02:50h, 09 July

    Samraat, which fundamentals are you talking about? Technology?

    – Will more users access the Internet via a mobile device? YES
    – Will more knowledge be shared asynchronously between users? YES
    – Will more applications come along that bypass existing channels (SMS, Cable TV, Terrestrial Radio)? YES
    – Will location-based activities become more relevant for users? YES

    Will the Economic fundamentals change? Probably

    But your point about changing the ability to understand is the key. Big platforms will come and go, but getting the fundamentals right (sharing, transparency, “now”, etc.) are critical.

  • BrianGracely
    Posted at 02:52h, 09 July


    Is your security concern about (a) the loss of data (ie. digital theft), or (b) the company hosting the data going out of business and you not being able to access it? If (a), is this a regulatory requirement, or just a company policy? If the former, which regulation must it comply with?

  • davereinhardt
    Posted at 06:57h, 09 July

    Initially I was thinking about (a) rather than (b) but (b) is a reasonable concern. In terms of (a), for some clients, particularly public sector clients, there are regulatory requirements. For some clients, public and private sector, it’s a contractual requirement however for the most I’d be inclined to say it’s a factor of company policy but it’s a policy introduced to give clients confidence around our ability to maintain appropriate levels of data security.

    In order to be effective we need clients to trust us with significant amounts of often sensitive data and we need to be doing everything conceivable to build that trust. Asking clients to sign up to us discussing / sharing info on commercial third party externally hosted platforms where they aren’t party to any of the contractual arrangements around security and IPR would just not be realistic.

  • KBodnar32
    Posted at 13:18h, 11 August

    1. Remind Facebook and Twitter are different platforms, that are used for different things. Facebook is for people already you know and Twitter is discovering new people and information. They can easily live together and grow together, especially if you second prediction is correct.

    2. Google Wave – The big “if” in the room is adoption. Yes as a platform Wave is a game changer, but it is probably 2-3 years away from an adoption and development standpoint. The point no one seems to be addressing with Wave is that it can help scale the social web. It can make niches more manageable and promote the growth a 2nd and 3rd tier networks and services.

    Regardless, great job stirring it up as always Jim.

  • Lisa Creech Bledsoe
    Posted at 13:18h, 11 August

    The community and the content are vastly different on Twitter and Facebook. Someone said recently that Twitter is about *what* you know, and Facebook is *who* you know, and that’s true in my experience. So I don’t see FB as the “Twitter Killer” (although it made complete sense for FB to acquire FriendFeed, which is very similar).

    I am sooooo ready for Google Wave to BRING IT ON. Wave’s ability to manage all our info flow and conversations is not something I’ve seen before, and I hope they hurry before we dissolve into distributed information network sludge.

  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 18:37h, 11 August

    Kipp, Lisa,

    I can’t wait to see who is right about Facebook vs. Twitter. The more I see their moves today and yesterday, the more what I said makes sense to me.

    So will your perspective prevail and become the dominant way of looking at Twitter? If so, it survives. If not–if it turns out that yours is the insider or advanced user perspective and the mainstream sees it differently–then 6 to 9 months from now, we see Twitter start to fade.

    Either way, it will be fun to watch!


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