April 15th, 2008
Facebook has had an update feature similar to Twitter for a while. Now Facebook has a feature that lets users add feeds from other web services like Flickr and del.icio.us — just like FriendFeed. From a technology perspective, Twitter and FriendFeed are now reducable to Facebook features. Even if those two apps are currently more robust than their equivalent Facebook features, there’s nothing to stop Facebook from copying them in their entirety.
So are Twitter and FriendFeed features, or are they companies? Eric Eldon makes a strong case that many of Facebook’s younger core users will never user Twitter or FriendFeed because the same features are available right there on Facebook.
Ironically, Twitter’s and FriendFeed’s core asset — arguably their sole competitive advantage — is their people, their users.
Many Pownce users say it’s better than Twitter. Yet people stay on Twitter. Why? Because all of the people they want to “follow” are on Twitter. Facebook itself is an amalgamation of commodity features — including the third-party applications now available on other services through OpenSocial. Again, what ties users to Facebook is people — your friends use the service, so you stick with it.
There’s something about the market for social web services that reminds me of the market for packaged goods. So many of the products you buy in the supermarket are nearly identical to competing products, and the choices we make as consumers are driven by brands — brands are how marketers convince us that one commodity product is better than another. A key element of brand building is portraying images of the type of people who use a brand — either people like us, or people we aspire to be.
You could argue that people use social web apps that are used by other people like them, i.e. their friends, or by people they aspire to be (e.g. like tech bloggers? Hmmm, let’s not go there.)
Another reason why many social web apps are like packaged goods is that they generic, one-size fits all in how they position their utility and value proposition. This roll of paper towels. That bottle of dish soap. Who is their target market? Well, anyone. Who is the target market for Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed? Well, anyone.
None of these applications do any advertising or “branding” — their brands are entirely a function of their users. They compete with each other not through features or technology, since those can be copied as easily as CPG packaging. No, they compete through their users — since their users are creating all the content, and more importantly, communicating with each other.
Users of a product have always defined a brand — do you drink Coke or Pepsi? But social web apps take this to an extreme, in that their users are almost entirely their brands.
It’s less about competing technology, and much more about competing user bases.
Let the best user base win…
(Side note: For some reason I find lifestreaming an odd term — is this your “life”? Really?)