Facebook won the social networking war for connecting with friends and family back in 2008 when it surpassed Myspace for worldwide unique visitors, according to comScore. Google+ didn't seem to get the memo.
On a recent login to Google+, I noticed the top post in my stream has this comment: "25 responses on Facebook. 2 on Google+ (counting this one). This is a ghost town." With a fairly large group of early adopters in my circle, the excitement for Google+ of just over 2 months ago has given way to indifference among everyone I know.
The reason is fairly obvious. Google+ is meant to connect you with people you know, just like Facebook. It's an attempt to compete on features and UI in a business dominated by network effects and switching costs. There is no way to beat Facebook at its own game, even with all the resources in the world at your disposal. Facebook won three or four years ago. Building a better mousetrap gets you nowhere. The trick is a differentiated social graph.
Social networks are defined by the nature of their social graphs. The Facebook social graph is the people you know, which of course is convenient since everyone in the world knows someone. But as large an opportunity as that social graph is, it is also limiting. As with every other product, context matters. People on Facebook don't accept friend requests from people they don't know. The battlefront in social networking is not connecting you to people you already know, but in connecting you to people you want to know.
As Liz Gannes of AllthingsD recently pointed out in a review of social discovery, the ultimate question is just how many people want to meet new people. How big, exactly, could this "social discovery" space be?
Pretty big. These networks in the aggregate already make hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue per year. The space right now is dominated by services like Badoo with its tremendous virtual currency monetization around meeting new people, Yobongo with its popular proximity-based chat, Tagged with its established international user base, and myYearbook, my company, with its focus on facilitating interactions through mobile and social games.
A number of very smart people have realized meeting new people has the capacity to support an entirely new category of geo-social network that weds social-mobile-local and carries the potential to be deeply disruptive. Andreessen Horowitz, for example, recently invested $5+ million in Likealittle, and new mobile apps for meeting people come out at least weekly, from Blendr to Mingle to Snog to WhosHere.
Innovation and execution are going to separate the winners from the losers in this space, just as it separated Facebook from Bebo, Myspace, and Orkut. While only time will tell who wins and who loses, I would not be surprised to see "social discovery" become a multi-billion dollar industry out of essentially thin air while at the same time disrupting that other category of meet-new-people destinations: dating sites.
Social discovery isn't online dating. The goal of joining a dating site is to be able to leave it. If you look at dating sites like Match, JDate, and eHarmony, they all have something in common: they are all transactional. Members are looking for someone to date or to marry -- to the extent that they find someone, they churn out. Retention metrics on dating sites are generally poor, like page views per visitor and visits per visitor. The people you see on dating sites are other people like you relying on the contrivance of the dating site to meet people in an unnatural environment. It's not fun.
Social discovery sites on the other hand are different. They make meeting people fun. "Meeting people" is broader and carries no stigma. These meeting services are media and entertainment properties, not burn-and-churn subscription businesses. While people can meet and date, social discovery goes beyond that single use case. "Meeting" is for anyone: new friends, people with similar interests, and people who share your interests in Magic, even. Social discovery is more natural than dating sites and ultimately, in my view, will prove the bigger concept and the bigger opportunity.
Meeting people through games is nothing new. Just about every one you know you likely met via a chance encounter that blossomed into something more, whether it was from a pickup game of basketball or bumping into someone at a coffee shop. We at myYearbook want to get the algorithm right for that encounter, as do a number of our competitors. One thing is for certain, this is where the action is, not Google+.
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