On the Internet, the big battle continues to be over “place.” Twitter’s spat with Instagram and Facebook’s continuing restrictions on data use are all about making sure that you use their website and applications — i.e., come to their house –so they can serve you the ads that make them money.
It’s critical to these social networks that you come to their owned sites/apps. You, however, probably don’t feel the same sense of urgency. I’m betting that you go to these social networks largely because that’s where the action is. That’s where your friends and family are. That’s where the news and updates you care about can be found. That’s where the photos and funny videos are served up to you.
But if the conversations and content came directly to you — precisely where and when you needed it — would you ever choose to go to Facebook?
Re-positioning the content source?
Companies like Google and Apple are positioned to shift technology in that direction … and possibly to THEIR direction.
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As we shift our online time from using computers to mobile devices, the companies that own the mobile operating systems are introducing technologies aimed at bringing information to you rather than requiring that you go looking for it. Specifically, they’ve introduced Siri on the iPhone and Google Now on Android devices: intelligent Personal Assistants.
These personal assistants respond to direct queries from the user and Google’s Now is taking it a significant step further by leveraging the knowledge that Google has about you and your activities–eventually across all the Google technologies you use daily—to predict what information you might want or need and serve it up without you asking.
Information before you know you need it?
For example, you might go out to your car to head to work. Suddenly your phone pipes up to tell you that there’s been an accident on your normal route and you may want to take the alternative route it’s mapped out. You didn’t ask for the information, but it’s an alert you’re glad to have.
As it advances, it will cover more scenarios. You might be working later than usual, past dinner time. Your phone notices that you’re still at the office and pops up with a suggestion that you order takeout from a nearby restaurant you’ve previously ordered from and that it knows is having a special on your favorite dish.
When these Personal Assistants can predict what practical information you might need at any given time, they can predict what social information you might want at any given time. They will be able to tell which friends you’re most interested in hearing from, which photos you’ll like the best, which news or status updates you’d want to see right away, and which ones you might only want to see when you’re bored. Eventually, your phone will probably even be able to tell when you’re bored and when you want to see those updates.
Is this the time for Google+?
As the technology advances, the only thing stopping Google and Apple from serving up your relevant social updates will be the resistance from the social networks themselves: the barriers Facebook and others put in the way because they want to remain your destination for social news.
Which is where Google+ comes in. G+ may not have displaced Facebook, but it’s gained a respectable following. (Its Circles feature also provides some great data about the importance and type of friends you have.) Google’s first step will likely be to integrate G+ into Now and begin serving G+ updates—and prompting you to update your status—via the Personal Assistant.
After G+, Google will likely provide apps and tools that allow you to give Now greater control over the other social tools you use (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Tumbler, Pinterest, etc.). If Google’s smart, it will provide a user experience that enables people to share using a single method and without having to think much about where they are sharing (whether it’s Facebook, Skype, etc.).
The battle will begin. Google will leverage the API of these social networks as much as those APIs allow, and the networks will continue to try to resist becoming a service by placing restrictions on the API. Facebook may even choose to come out with its own phone and adopt the Personal Assistant model on it. The company would face an uphill battle, though, and I don’t expect it could win market share with the head start that Android and the iPhone have.
Would Facebook give up on being “the destination?”
Google, being Google, will find a new way to monetize the Now social experience with ads. They may find a way to monetize that gives Facebook and Twitter a cut of the revenue when they are acting as a content/social service. A model that cuts them in would make it easier for the social networks to let go of their existing ad model and give up the battle to be a destination. For instance, Google may pay for the detailed social and behavioral information that Facebook has (or enable advertisers to pay for it) and leverage that information in real-time for ad serving.
Regardless, as the battle plays out, users of Android devices (and perhaps Apple, depending on the strategic alliances it develops) will have a superior experience. They’ll get the content they like from the people they care about at the time they want to see it—without ever having to ask. If the experience of G+ users is significantly better than that of Facebook users, people may well begin opting for G+ over Facebook, simply because they socialize primarily from their phone and G+ with Now is a better social experience.
Before long, Personal Assistants will appear on our desktops as well as our mobile devices. The usefulness of the Personal Assistant model will be so compelling that Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks will be forced to capitulate and adapt — rather than being a destination for users, they become a service. And in the not-too-distant future, the only destination that social users will have is the screen that their Personal Assistant serves up to them.
Data when you want it and need it — ALL data, including the social stream. It’s about to get interesting. Agree?