Thinking about the reaction to Google’s Search Plus Your World (SPYW?), (how about Search+), has got me thinking about networks. Reading Danny Sullivan’s interview with Eric Schmidt the night of the Search+ launch it became pretty clear that what Search+ is about is establishing Google+’s position as a bona fide social media network. No more questions about how many are really using Google+, if you look at the torrent of reactions to Search+ its clear that no-one is going to say that Google+ is irrelevant. It’s now really one of the Big Three social networks.
But when I think about “Big Three” I can’t help but thinking about another Big Three, the Big Three television networks, and how in their pre-cable heyday they captured the bulk of the TV audience and the ad revenues that went with it. What Google is doing with Search+ is trying to ensure its position as one of the parallel Big Three social networks along with the advertising revenues that are already following.
But there’s a problem with this analogy that has to do with abundance. The old Big Three got you to watch their content, and ads, because of scarcity. They had exclusive content and if you wanted to watch it you also had to endure the ads. Social networks operate in a world of abundance of bth content and access. The scarcity they have to deal with is the time we can devote to each or any of them. Each of the Big Three, Facebook, twitter and Google+, (sorry LinkedIn but, well…), require an investment of time and effort in order to maintain “viewership”. They each make efforts to build loyalty and mass following, but compelling exclusivity or scarcity? There’s not much to speak of, I mean, is Timeline a reason to spend MORE time on Facebook?
The only real scarcity that social networks command is the scarcity of their members. But that isn’t enough to command loyalty. I go to Facebook primarily to catch up with local and ex-work acquaintances and to spy on my, (adult), kids, but there is little else compelling to make me want to stay there exclusively. I go to twitter because its where I fine like-minded professionals, (that’s a whole other problem), and I go to Google+ because, well…it has these cool hangouts, I can write more than 140 characters and I have just enough time to do that.
But unlike the old Big Three, the new Big Three are trying to achieve what feels like an all or nothing kind of world. They wall their gardens because they fear that if they don’t have all the users all the time they will lose command of the airwaves internet. The funny thing is that in the days of the old Big Three, total network domination wasn’t as much of an issue. The networks competed, but the assumption was that viewers would move between shows and that no-one could have an absolute lock on all eyeballs. Sure, some shows dominated and lineups were created to try and get you to spend an evening without making the huge effort of clicking a remote, but that was about as far as it went and generally with poor results.
Search+ carried to the extreme is Google’s effort to achieve dominance by using its search position. That’s one reason for the big outcry. But the problem is that, just like the old Big Three, there’s no reason for any social network to be “dominant” because, frankly, have nothing really unique or scarce to offer except for their members. On the other hand if you look at Search+ as a dare by Google to force the other networks to open up and share in, albeit Google’s, level playing field maybe there’s a chance this will force the Big Three to become like their elders and get better at creating deeper value through scarcity.