Monday, December 10, 2012

The war of the social networks has begun!

If you are a user of Twitter and Instagram, you must have noticed the controversial clash between the two companies which has been widely reported in the media, and escalated after Instagram rejected a buy-out bid from Twitter in favor of being acquired by Facebook. The latest episode involved Instagram revoking the ability of users to see photos in their Twitter Stream, and Twitter retaliating by launching their own  photo filters which compete directly with the photo sharing apps' functionality.

Twitter has been in the news for other hard hitting decisions notably increasing restrictions placed on developers of third party Twitter applications like Tweet Deck and Twitterific. Twitter's new policies appear to be directed towards creating and owning the unique user experience of Twitter rather than leaving it to competition. Instagram has made a similar move with the launch of web profiles, which make pictures taken with the app publicly viewable and searchable. 

I am not a heavy Instagram user so these changes do not affect me much. What did affect me was Twitter's decision in June to disable the automatic posting of tweets to a LinkedIn profile. I used twitter as a means to cross-post news updates to all my social networks, and this would mean an additional step of posting to LinkedIn separately, which I did not want. Strangely, I can still cross-post my tweets to Facebook. Maybe I should expect the plug to be pulled on that as well.

Twitter is not the only one trying to own the user experience. Today I received a mail from LinkedIn informing me that they are activating a new and improved profile. That's good, but the mail also added:


Now there are more ways than ever to tell your professional story on LinkedIn, and we're excited for you to try them out. As we roll out these changes, we'll also be streamlining our app offerings, so the following LinkedIn apps will no longer be supported on the homepage or profile as of December 11:

  • Box.net Files

  • Blog Link
Dig into the changes on LinkedIn and they are much deeper, and implemented over time. You can no longer link most RSS Feeds directly to groups, profile or company pages and need to post a status update instead. Also LinkedIn is encouraging people to use their new rich media content to showcase profiles (presentations, videos etc.)

The business thinking behind these decisions is very simple
1. By getting people to create content specifically for the network, and sign in to post 
    manually, we are getting them to spend more time on the site. Right now, they have no real 
    incentive to log in or spend time when they can just push content from third party apps.
2. When people spend more time on the site creating content and browsing, they also reveal a 
    little more about themselves and this can go a long way to build our understanding of our user
    base. This also improves the monetisation of the users.
3. People may complain a little at least initially about these changes, and say they make life   
    worse, but it's the nature of people to resist all change. When we create great native apps 
    and allow only a handful of tightly integrated third pary apps, we will deliver a fantastic user 
    experience that they will love. Go back to point 1 and 2.

And the bottomline : if we do not create and own the user experience, we will never own the users the way Facebook does. 

As a user, what do I think? I think my time spent on networking sites is going to double. Today it's just a matter of sharing content without leaving the app or website I am currently accessing. Tomorrow, I will be signing into 3x sites to individually post updates, status messages etc. Extra clicks, page views, time spent. It's good till I see a utility and value in doing this. Otherwise, there will be a shakeout in my usage habits. I will stop visiting a few sites, I will stop updating regularly. And everyone will make this prioritisation depending on where their interests and contact bases lie. Photo enthusiasts will migrate to Instagram. Businesses who rely on professional networking sites will spend more effort and resource on LinkedIn. We will continue to Facebook, because we have to, don't you know.

There will be a shakeout, a shifting of audience bases and a segmentation of the networking markets. Because our time resource is limited and we do need to (ocassionally) work.

The war of the social networks has begun in earnest. Twitter vs. Facebook vs. Instagram vs. Pinterest vs. LinkedIn vs. Google + vs. many others. Where does your interest lie?