Opportunities in the Food Chain of Google, Facebook

29 10 2007

It’s a wild and crazy time, or even week for that matter, and I’m not just talking Halloween here. I’m talking about the showdown for the domination of the ultimate web platform.

Erick Schonfeld, new editor at TechCrunch, writes about Maka-Maka, a codename for adding a social layer across its entire suite of applications.

I think to anyone familiar with Google’s ambitions, this really shouldn’t be a shock. What’s crazy here is the effect that Facebook’s platform has had to really up the ante, accelerating plans across the board to capitalize on the creating of an ultimate social graph – or more importantly – of building the ultimate web platform. It’s rather remarkable that we now speak about Facebook in the same breath as Google ($212 billion market cap!).

As Schonfeld explains, it’s clear that Google has more data about your behavior than anyone. And some will be quick to point out the privacy, and big (and evil) brother concerns. Remember when there was initial resistance against AdWords advertising against Gmail data? Google’s applications (Gmail spam protection alone) are so well executed at times that they start to creep into your life. And I’m not necessarily upset about it.

At least they’re not in the middle of a scandal about nosy, meddlesome Facebook employees messing with people’s personal Facebook profile, as Valleywag reports. I’m not going to play conspiracy theorist, but I do know Facebook will be very wise to come down on this hard and fast, both with disciplinary and technology measures if they want to be the ultimate gathering place to live your online social life.

Stan Schroeder at Mashable writes about the possibility that Google could, just possibly, be vulnerable. No matter how much you might want to think that Google is vulnerable (especially EnjoyPerth.Net), it’s not very vulnerable in its central goal of organizing information.

So the question for startups is: what are the new opportunities for new startups? A Facebook or Google platform aren’t the only choices either: Salesforce.com is becoming a platform force with AppExchange, and you’ll be able to utilize not just Facebook, but MySpace, LinkedIn and other powerful APIs soon enough as well.

The question then becomes: can you aggregate a large enough audience to reach critical mass, or perhaps more importantly, to actually be relevant in the ultra-competitive startup world?

Want to start a niche social networking site? Most of the time, I would frown against it BUT a fun, useful app built on an existing infrastructure could be a more lightweight and more effective path.

Vertical search? Farecast is still my best example of doing this in an innovative, yet user-friendly manner. However, you still have to execute something that people want. People want to save on travel; they generally don’t need a special search engine to search blogs (Technorati). I’ve written about creating value mattering in the noisy world of startups, but it’s just as important that you actually solve a problem. Fix something that’s broken, plain and simple. If cocky companies like Facebook and Google can admit they can’t do everything, they may just have a point.

If this new platform hierarchy creates a food chain, then Google and Facebook (right now) are at the top of the food chain though: the pinnacle of where you want to be. Most everyone is probably going to have to rely on them somehow. By and large, that’s going to be OK, but we all need to realize that’s how the ecosystem is set up and prepare accordingly. If you want to think big, just don’t get stuck way, way at the bottom of the food chain.  This new game is NOT a zero sum game, and the smart ones who keep this ultimately in mind will find there’s plenty of opportunities to solve problems and make money.

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