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Why the social networks are falling apart

Mike Elgan | April 28, 2014
The social networks are falling apart -- breaking up into multiple sites and apps that do in a scattered way what used to happen centrally.

Whenever Facebook acquires such companies, it always says that it's not going to change anything, and that it's not going to fold them into Facebook proper. People tend to roll their eyes at these pronouncements, but I believe Facebook and I'll tell you why in a minute.

These acquisitions were part of a larger "multiple app" strategy by Facebook that has been complemented by homegrown apps like Messenger, Facebook Camera and Paper.

From a data-harvesting perspective, these various apps fall into the categories of "who you know," "where you go" and "what you like." These are the same categories of personal data that Facebook gathers to provide increasingly relevant and customized advertising at Facebook.com.

This week, we learned that Facebook plans to unveil a new mobile ad network at its F8 conference next week. The purpose of the network is for Facebook to sell ads outside of Facebook.com and outside the Facebook mobile app.

If Facebook's direction or strategy isn't clear, let me spell it out: Harvest personal data from multiple apps, then sell personalized advertising in multiple locations.

Here's an oversimplified example: An ad for a Starbucks promotion presented to you in a mobile game (sold through Facebook's upcoming ad network) might be based on knowledge that you spend a ton of time at Starbucks — information harvested from the Moves app.

As you can see, there's no Facebook — no social network — involved in this series of events. But Facebook gets paid anyway.

Twitter is embracing a "mini" version of this approach.

Twitter outgrows Twitter

Twitter acquired Vine in October 2012. As Facebook did with its social acquisitions, Twitter kept Vine separate and didn't brand it as a Twitter product.

And last year Twitter acquired a mobile ad network of its own called MoPub.

Then Twitter this month acquired a company called Gnip, which specializes in the harvesting of social signals for advertising and marketing.

The control and ownership of Vine, MoPub and Gnip demonstrate a shift in thinking. Twitter is no longer a social microblogging service, but instead a personalized advertising company that harvests user signals from wherever and then displays personalized ads wherever.

Which brings us full circle back to Google.

Google outgrows Google+

Google this week announced the departure of the guy who, in Larry Page's words, " built Google+ from nothing." But Vic Gundotra's departure appears to be part of a larger de-emphasis of Google+ as a social network that unifies everything.

The chatter in Silicon Valley is that Google will keep Google+ going, but invest more heavily in Google+ as a platform, rather than as an all-purpose destination social network.

 

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