Social Layers and Social Intention

I read Mike Arrington's post on Google's social efforts just now. I have not seen any of Google's work. I have not been briefed. I really have no clue what they are building. But this quote got my attention:

Google Me is not a product, it’s a social layer across all products”. But there’s more – “Google Me will produce an activity stream generated by all Google products.

Q. Why did Twitter succeed and FriendFeed fail?

A. Because FriendFeed was largely a social aggregator whereas Twitter is a service with specific social intent.

I think this is an important distinction. I have not seen any breakout social layers. The social services that have broken out to date have been services where a user has a very specific intent.

Social engagements are weird out of context. Comments to this blog make perfect sense on this blog but less sense when they are tweeted out into a Twitter stream or show up in FriendFeed.

There is value in social aggregation but not huge value. Not "this is how we are going to compete with Facebook value". If you want to compete with Facebook, you have to build a service that offers users a specific social intent and the ability to engage directly around that intent.

Curious if you all agree with me.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Julien

    I don’t 🙂 I’m not sure I would say Friendfeed failed… actually, I think their ideas succeeded! Bret is now CTO at FB and is definitely inspiring a lot of FB’s recent moves.Many things can be blamed on FF, including the design, for example, the lack of filtering and agregation (see triple posts with the same content… etc), but I think the general idea of letting users define what their web life “log” is a very interesting and smart one… and when I see all the links on my twitter stream (people sharing stories they read in their RSS reader), the pictures posted, or even the checkins (gowalla or 4qs), I’d say that Twitter is moving toward this. I even heard that the new Twitter is now able to show these media elements in the timeline 🙂 But I don’t have access to it, so I can’t confirm…

    1. fredwilson

      i think aggregation is a successful strategy once you have won the user over with intentfacebook is obviously the best example of this and i think that is why they bought FF

      1. Burgher Jon

        Don’t you think Google could argue they’ve won intent with their other products though?

        1. fredwilson

          search intent – yessocial intent – no

      2. Mike O'Horo

        Fred’s point is supported by a lot of research into how new ideas get accepted or “diffused” into a culture. [For those with the tolerance for this, read “Diffusion of Innovation.” It’s dense, but persuasive.]The short version of diffusion is that concepts, whether simple like the introduction of water purification in the Amazon or hybrid seed corn in the Midwest, or more complex like some of these social media tools, predictably evolves in phases:1. Introduction (initial use by Early Adopters)2. Growth (That’s cool; let me have one, too.)3. Control (establish norms, standards, support infrastructure)4. Integration (with other successful silos)5. Optimization (where it becomes unconscious, part of the DNA of both company and customer)For any single innovation, this is a linear process. Across a suite of innovative products introduced at different times and under different market conditions, you’ll find each of the component products at a different stage of this arc.One recent twist is that ease-of-entry makes it possible for innovators to accelerate this cycle by, say, starting life as the integrator or aggregator of previously-successful tools.It seems that confident evaluation of Fred’s question may requires a longer lens since the picture is, by definition, far more incomplete in such a nascent category as social media.I’m not in the social media biz, so this is just $.02 from an outsider who enjoys the discussion in this community.

        1. Tereza

          What I’m particularly interested in right now is, which early adopters do you pick when what you have is a technology-based product, but typical early adopters don’t really care about the problem you’re trying to solve — the mass does.In the Geoffrey Moore model, your early adopters are influencers and they help you co-develop. And they are tolerant of bugs and early mistakes. In fact, they like it.I think the next wave of consumer tech innovation are areas that the Tech early adopters didn’t personally relate to, so either passed on them or did not conceive them to begin with. And there’s not a whole lot they can bring to the table, outside of de-bugging the thing, because they have no credibility in the domain where the money is to be made….and they’re not personally passionate about the context at hand.But seeding a new tech product with non-techie influencers in the domain is its own challenge. How do you get them tolerant of bugs and errors, get them feeling like it’s cool to create this new thing.That, I think, is the next wave of challenge and we’ll be pushing the envelope on this.Why cross a chasm? Start in the market you intend to be.

          1. Aviah Laor

            “the next wave of consumer tech innovation are areas that the Tech early adopters didn’t personally relate to”this is the crux of crossing the chasm, that the techies early adopters do not predict the next stage.

          2. fredwilson

            in your case Tereza, i am thinking young tech savvy women, maybe even teens

          3. Tereza

            Can i get a young Wilson or two or three to test drive?Any other AVC-ers out there with teenagers who are into style stuff — please DM me (@TerezaN) (note MUST be over 13 and be warned if they don’t have an iTouch or iPhone yet they may come begging soon)

        2. fredwilson

          outsiders are extremely needed here Mikeotherwise we become an echo chamber

      3. Jeff Dachis

        I think you make a interesting point and a good distinction here.While users are still in the “adoption phase” of social (which is where we are), applications with specific intent will prevail. As users/businesses begin to mature and “operationalize” these applications, aggregation and integration will begin to supersede individual applications. As the data derived from the aggregation and integration can be correlated and starts to yield meaningful insights, the “optimization” of these integrated and aggregated social layers will be the key drivers in monetizing all this social activity.We first had to get people ON the internet and build them custom applications like shopping carts and custom inventory management systems, and custom CMS platforms, and custom ad servers before we could aggregate and integrate those functions into the seamless form of E-Commerce we know today, and then certainly before anything like Omniture or Coremetrics could be of any real value optimizing those efforts …This is early times in Social and specifically Social Business or businesses being able to adopt social for business purposes.I think integration and aggregation are going to be the key drivers in the next wave of bringing a variety of monetization strategies to Social Business.2c

        1. fredwilson

          thanks for stopping by Jeffyou have a ton of experience in this stuff and i appreciate you sharing your thoughts

  2. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Agree.Context Is KIng.This is why location based services are really gathering momentum – the ultimate tangible in context is where one physically is at a given time.I suspect 4sq is close to the tipping-point that Twitter was at a year or so ago…

    1. fredwilson

      i sure hope so carl

      1. Harry DeMott

        I like the context is king argument.On Disqus I have the share with Facebook and Twitter box I can check – and sometimes, if I write a long comment – I might check them, but most times I don’t because the comments is completely out of context.Generally, things need to be taken not only in context – but shared with people who will be interested in one form or another.I have plenty of friends – some on Facebook, and some not – but I think it is clear that for many of these friends – we share very little in the “taste” category – and any ramblings I might post about venture capital or media have little interest to them – just as their achievements on Farmville do nothing for me.On foursquare – I have generally friended people I genuinely care about seeing – so getting a status update from these folks makes sense. There is a context for me – as well as a self selection factor that makes it valuable.Over time, guys like Hunch, and others, might just solve this – and I will get pushed feeds from people who have similar tastes – and the out of context comments will start to make more and more sense.

    2. markevans99

      Just heard from a exec today who partners with 4sq that proves your point, “Context Is King” and this partner is getting major ROI from “intent” via a singular service. But when it comes to “intent” and geo, is there only room for one big winner like Twitter in its space? Or will check-in and geo services fragment and allow for many different services that stand alone as businesses with intent? If yes, someone will need to aggregate these services into one place, the question will be does the aggregation service deliver enough of its own intent to be a business rather than a free service.

    3. Tereza

      Well, 4sq — I do have fun with it — but really it’s a boys-in-the-city game.Badges that seriously don’t fit my context — for example, the “douchebag badge” — I’d like to see them supplemented by some that have relevance to my life.Until then, I feel like I’m playing someone else’s game.

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Good point. Know what you mean, Tereza – some of the ‘badges’ are cringeworthy in their terminology. Refined profiling will come, no doubt.

        1. Tereza

          Are you saying you’re not a Douchebag, Carl?;-)I know there is benefit to the edginess.I do think, bigger picture, that check-ins that are in effect punishments for checking in will discourage check-ins.

      2. fredwilson

        i’d like to see them allow users to create badges. then you and your friends in your town can play your own game

        1. Tereza

          oooo self-creation is a great idea.I submitted a bunch a while back but they didn’t get picked up. I felt ignored.

  3. Ajit Jaokar

    Hi fredGreat insights as usual. I think you mean ‘Social engagements are weird out of context’? But I get the overall picture you are saying I think,.So, you are saying .. Google appears to be merely aggregating. yes? like FF kind rgds Ajit

    1. fredwilson

      oopstypoi’m fixing it now

      1. Paola

        I’ ve never been a great fun of Facebook and will never be.It had the strenght to put at work a new way of interaction on the web but it was built on old economy values, nothing really new in it.This is its weackness.And no matter what he will come up with now, he will be never be trustable.The game is to build a new facebook using completly new economic values.

  4. Mahendra

    Absolutely agree. I fear if they’re going to turn it into a lifestreaming concept. IMO, the Buzz model didn’t take off primarily because it was based on Friendfeed’s aggregation model. Wrote about this back in Feb:

    1. fredwilson

      you are at least six months ahead of me Mahendra”if you can’t beat them, aggregate them”sounds right, but it is wrong

  5. RichardF

    Social engagements are weird out of context but I wonder how worried Google are about that at the moment.First and foremost Google want to be able to crawl and index over everything, on the web and off (I am amazed at how much of the UK they have put on Streetview) invariably some of the best solutions to technical issues I have managed to find on the web came from a link to comment in a forum that I found via a Google even if that is increasingly a link to stackoverflow.I don’t think Google get social at all but initially I think getting access to everything social is their primary goal.

    1. fredwilson

      that certainly explains the strategy but this Eric Schmidt line from arrington’s post is enlightening:The best thing that could happen is if Facebook opened up its network and if we could just use that information…Failing that, there are other ways in which we can get that information.

      1. narendra

        which explains spending on slide — a data/profile + engineer acquisition.

      2. RichardF

        can’t see that happening anytime soon unless the GOOG drop a serious bundle of cash

  6. roshandsilva

    Agree with you Fred. However, some of the products in google’s portfolio lend themselves to social applications e.g. sharing interesting articles on google reader or interesting websites on google chrome or else sharing pictures with Picasa. The issues that google will have to grapple with are mainly safeguarding the users privacy without complicating the user interface. At the moment, it seems like one wrong click could expose private data to all people on your addressbook or friends list.

  7. Florian Trippel

    I was stumbling across the exact same line …According to the record Google is maintaining in social-only websites it is only logical that they now try to glue together what they already have. I was wondering why they recently bought all those platforms like Slide, but now it makes perfect sense. I picture Google Me now like Facebook Applications, but with real stand-alone applications. I actually find the Facebook Apps quite limiting and this could spice Apps up – if they get it right. And Google has some platforms to its disposal …For Google it’s all about staying THE search engine. FBs efforts in Q&A and their plans to build a search engine are quite threatening to Google. Since FB will most likely never open up their platform, the information in question must be intercepted before it reaches FB.Personally, I think they will not get it right, but the idea is great and which only Google can conduct.

  8. kagilandam

    But why would Google want to get into social arena?Why can’t they use (buy) the ONE that comes out of this bloody bath?Are they fearing the assassin coming from social ?

  9. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    I would tend to agree with you in theory, but I have an experience that goes against that grain: the social features in Google Reader have changed the way I read and consume news.My friends share stuff with me and I share it with them. Half of the reason why I use Google Reader is the articles my friends share. I wish I could also tweet out some of those articles instead of just sharing them within Reader but right now it holds a lot of value to me.People say Twitter killed RSS and I don’t agree. I use RSS as much as I ever did (along with Twitter and Tumblr — which takes time), but a big reason for that is that RSS has become social, at least within Google. So I do believe that adding the right social layer to the right products can definitely be a winner for Google.I agree with you that straight aggregation a la Friendfeed has failed, but from the perspective of Google, adding the right social features to the right products can help them accomplish their goals: improve their products, improve engagement, build a social graph and get more data on their users.(Also I would argue that a BIG reason why Friendfeed failed was just superior execution by Facebook: many of the new features by Friendfeed, not just aggregation, but also threaded conversations, etc. are absolute winners, but Facebook out-executed them by implementing them very fast and as well. I’m not convinced a Friendfeed with a better sense of design and faster execution wouldn’t have grown bigger.)

    1. Artur Adib

      I agree with much of what you say, esp. regarding the proprietary sharing in Google Reader and the Twitter vs. RSS debate. Curiously, I’ve been interviewed yesterday and talked about both points in connection with my own solution to Google Reader’s drawbacks (…Back to the Google Me thread though, I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels this way, but Google makes Me hesitant to adopt their new products, because I never know the extent of integration with other products I already use.It’s funny how having tons of data about users available from the get-go is both a blessing for Google and a curse for some users.For users, it’s not just a privacy concern. It’s also a conceptual one: it’s very difficult to organize in your brain the boundaries of a product when it’s all tangled up with other products by the same company.That’s part of the reason I’m reluctant to try most of their new products.

    2. ShanaC

      Who do you share with? Is it equal opportunity sharing?

    3. Hutch Carpenter

      To Fred’s point here. Google Reader has specific intent. Namely reading and sharing interesting articles. But it doesn’t fold in blog writing, photo sharing, location check-ins, etc.It’s hard to be everything to everyone, and context is king.

      1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        Good point, but I don’t think it detracts from my point that adding the right social features to the right products can create a ton of value.PEG

      2. fredwilson

        i was going to reply to PEG with that exact comment, but you beat me to it Hutchtotally agree

  10. jaredstenquist

    I absolutely agree. I am curious on Google’s direction with this after Buzz flopped. A feed of all my activity on Google’s services would contain (or hopefully not contain) trends or topics in my gmail, perhaps recent images i’ve search for, documents edited, and in my specific case maybe analytics on the sites I have in my Ganalytics/Webmaster accounts.I’d like to say my Google life would be interesting on a social level, but I don’t see it. I hope to be pleasantly surprised.As far as competing directly with Facebook, it’s a great challenge on the aggregation level. There are infinite possibilities for leveraging the relationships within the Open Graph though that can challenge Facebook for their users mindshare. They of course don’t mind this since they desire to be THE social platform.At my startup CampusLIVE we decided to build on top of the graph, but allow our users (college students) to engage around what dorm they live in and what classes they are in. This intent differentiates us so we aren’t competing with them per se.

  11. kirklove

    Yes.It’s not about size, it’s about curation. For a web service to succeed it needs relevance and not simply scale. You may end up with a lot of little niche services actually and not just one behemoth. Much like the web itself.

    1. Andrew Greene

      Google does curation very well. I assume they are working on something like a social curation tool. If Google can curate my facebook and Twitter feed (which are more personal and more professional, respectively) then I think they have added a very useful social layer. I follow about 100 people and have a few hundred friends, and reading the live feeds is taking up too much of my life. I see Google as the place to curate both feeds and show me what’s worthwhile. I just hope that Google can design this NOT as a feed. But I don’t see Google engineers coming up with something more readable. Live feeds are terrible for reading comprehension and mental staying power.

  12. akharris

    Truth is, I don’t think the issue has been decided yet. I can see a lot of value to an aggregation that works on the way out as with the way in – I know I’m getting as fatigued updating 15 different social presences as I am keeping up with the updates in them.The problem seems to be that all of the aggregators thus far have failed to provide the right kind of filtering and curation to actually make them better than the standalone options. But is a social layer the right way to go? I think it has to be. In fact, if you look at facebook, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. They build their original, self contained social network, and it took off. But then they started spreading outwards, incorporating your actions from other services, and that feels like where they really start taking off. When you log in with your fb account to another major site, you’re using their social layer, even if it doesn’t automatically communicate back to your feed. And, as more and more data appears in that feed (blog posts, picture creation, music purchases or whatever else is coming), it grows far beyond the original idea of social.The question in my head is whether or not google can beat fb’s exploding social layering, not whether or not social layers are a good idea. Then again, I might be seeing the idea of layer in a different way.

    1. Pete

      They are both social layers, but with very different applications: Facebook is building a social layer onto the non-social web, while Google wants to build another social layer on top of existing social services.

      1. akharris

        Maybe, but google building a social layer into mail, and then pairing that with analytics/aggregation of your other social interaction is a pretty powerful idea.I’d love it if google, with all of its analytical knowhow, could make sense of all the social noise flowing against me every day. It’s tough to deal with.

        1. Pete

          The internet does need better filtering. Google Analytics can measure where, when, what, and how… but not really “who” or more importantly, “why”, which is the context you’re looking to filter.The relevance filter problem is the big one. If someone solves that problem, that would be something.

    2. fredwilson

      I see your point but I can’t make social aggregation work for meI don’t use FB but I do pump my social media actions into it. They get nointeraction thereA tumblr post of mine with a hundred ‘notes’ gets nothing on FBThat leads me to believe that engagement tends to happen in the nativeservice

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        … “That leads me to believe that engagement tends to happen in the native service” …Interesting observation, amplified by the fact that I have recently adopted the ‘Selective Tweets’ application to filter my Twitter > Facebook noise.Is remarkable how in just a few days in this mode, I now see Facebook very differently – whilst it once seemed pretty vibrant because of all my Twitter activity automatically being pumped into it, it now seems to be a very calm, quiet place – a glorified Interactive Rolodex but activity therein is now more relevant to my Facebook environment and ‘community’.I also feel more liberated in my use of Twitter, knowing only the content I select gets posted to Facebook and it is now aimed primarily at my Twitter community.Tumblr still intrigues me, mind….

      2. Mark

        The killer is going to be when you and your phone ‘are’ the native service. IMO, that is the territory that will trump all others.

        1. Carl Rahn Griffith

          Pretty much that way already, personally, since jumping from (many years of) BlackBerry to iPhone 4.Rarely generally use my MacBook now – only for complex email or MS Office intense/oriented work.With the iPhone 4’s decent battery life, excellent WiFi roaming and tactile ergonomics, it is now my primary conduit to the ‘net and all associated services.And I never thought I’d be saying that, even just 4 months ago…

          1. Mark

            I agree that the hardware is reaching the point of enabling it, but the battle for the context is in its infancy. IMO, not enough rethinking has taken place yet. Currently, services are growing solely on facets of mobile functionality. However, I am sure that 4sq etc, know that their most important achievement is a toehold on the new playing field.

        2. fekaylius

          a server in every pocket

          1. Mark


      3. Fernando Gutierrez

        But I think that you are not a normal user. I think there are some factors that can explain what you say:- You have a big crowd following you and we interact with you in those native services. In FB you’ve said many times that you are friends only with people you really know, so I guess that your following there must be much smaller.- Those that follow you outside FB tend to have a profile that make us prone to interact because we are interested in these kind of services, what it’s not necessarily true in FB.-You truly engage in all those native services, but you’ve said that you only use FB to check photos. You have a great community here because you nurture it all the time. Other people take care of their FB pages and they get a lot interaction there.

        1. akharris

          I think you’re right about that, it actually also describes my usual interaction with FB. I use it to publicize personal blog posts, and updates on what we’re doing at tutorspree, but I don’t actually use it as my social home base. It’s not filtered/controllable enough, and I’d rather get rich interactions in other places. For instance, I’d probably never get to have a conversation with Fred on fb, but I can do it here.What i really want is something that lets me intelligently aggregate all these social/content streams and then lets me reach out to each of them in a focused way as I like. I’ve seen some startups that are inching towards that setup, but nothing that hits the mark.

        2. fredwilson


      4. akharris

        I think that might also have something to do with your position in the social “stack,” for lack of a better word. Because of your reach/influence, people come to where you establish your presence. Other folks interact with their circles differently, and fb (or maybe someone else at some point) are establishing that common ground.

      5. fekaylius

        Is anyone working on a shared commenting layer / API for all these services? where a note in tumblr flows downstream to facebook, but also gets upstream flow? Currently there isn’t a universal identifier to know that PostX on tumblr is the same as the automatically replicated PostX on facebook, once the geo-hackers solve this problem for place identity, maybe they’ll share code and we can use it for a “universal post db”.

        1. Ryan

          It’s part of what we’re working on at There are so many streams you can have your life tickling into. You also have multiple facets to your life: home, work, clubs, etc. that you may or may not want to share all streams across all facets. It’s this thesis we’re using to develop not just a social stream aggregation point, but, more importantly, we’re building a social abstraction layer that will work with FB, twitter, etc. and empower the user to take control of their content. This translates to a platform where being social is only the beginning or a means to further each person’s self actualization.For now, we’re content with building a “universal post” system…

      6. Tereza

        Or, your FB friends are not active commenters/users, while your followers on Tumblr, etc. are power users of this stuff. There is some self-selection at play here.

      7. delip

        True engagement happens in the native service. Therefore a good social aggregator should channel engagement back to the primary services while adding value on top of these services …eg: Flipboard, Twezr etc.,

    3. delip

      Agree with you. See my other comment about FriendFeed’ s approach to aggregation …it is oriented towards the content publisher, they didn’t do any thing to curate and organize the information for the content consumer. There is a lot of value in that!

  13. Colin Walker

    The key difference to FriendFeed here, as I see it, is that each Google product will have its own social layer specifically tied in to that product – the specific social intent as you describe above.If the reports are accurate then activity from each of those social layers is aggregated separately (allegedly in Buzz) – so Buzz is the equivalent of FF where you can access all of the social interactions from the products you use in one location.The fact that each app is social in its own context means that you interact at whichever level you choose. Only use Picasa? Fine just interact there – there is no need to dock with the Buzz mothership. Want to use multilpe products and see what’s going on in one central locatio? Cool – head to Buzz.In my opinion, it offers choice and flexibility.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s a better approach for sure

  14. flocial

    I’m kind of weary of Google going “social” because they’re essentially a utility and social networks are services. It’s interesting that the example you use, FriendFeed, was started by Google engineers so it kind of explains how they think. Scary when you think that working at Google might engrain you to approach web startups that way.

    1. Philip J. Cortes

      I couldn’t agree more – whatever service they launch will have to be seamlessly incorporated into their existing “utility” functionality. Utility first, social second.

    2. baba12

      So in your view searching, or using email or doing word processing etc are utilities not services.Interesting, then I would guess Google as a utility should be regulated by a PSC. I would say they are not a utility, they provide a set of services, and I am guessing they are trying to build a layer to amalgamate all these services in a way that makes sense, though I am doubtful it would be considered successful by the people who define success in a different way.

      1. flocial

        I am well aware that all of Google’s offerings are “services”. I use the word “utility” to mean their offerings lean more towards providing infrastructure or backbone type services that stand on their own merit in usefulness or utility to the user. Social services leverage the connections amongst users as part of the service itself.The case I had in mind was when Google took Gmail and bolted Buzz onto it. They took a utility, though it is used for communication, and added a “social” component. The ensuing storm over privacy and lack of traction is what I’d expect to happen with adding a social layer to everything.Another scenario, I go to YouTube to watch videos. Some videos are of dubious content I watch for entertainment. However, if my gmail and all “google” accounts went social and connected across services and started pushing out activity streams it could end up being an embarrassing problem.

    3. falicon

      This is an interesting point…I would argue that, barring the rare exception such as Twitter itself, it’s near impossible to build something social out of the gate (network effect, chicken-egg problem).I think the approach most of us trying to do things end up taking is to first build something that can provide value to one user, on an island by themselves…and for the first few periods of time, we jut focus on getting all those little islands up and happily running…then over time we start to build land bridges between the islands so the people can be more social…and eventually, if we are lucky, there are enough land bridges to make a real continent and the people begin to form their own governments and so on and so forth…So I think it’s VERY hard to build a ‘social’ system out of the gate, and without some initial utility for users on their own you will have a tough time getting to the scale to do anything truly ‘social’ anyway…

  15. awaldstein

    Fred, you have occupied the sacred spot on my Mac desktop as a yellow sticky for the day…”you have to build a service that offers users a specific social intent and the ability to engage directly around that intent”This is the intersection of common sense and wisdom and points to why a lot of early attempts at disintermediating industries don’t initially work…the social intent is muddled.Great point…

  16. Pete

    Agreed, Fred. I am in different mindsets when I go to Twitter vs Facebook vs Tumblr. An aggregation of the three would seem unnatural, even though I often visit those sites in succession.Google Buzz didn’t work for me, especially since it tried to create a new social layer on top of everything. I didn’t like getting comments on Buzz rather than on my blog or on Twitter.It seems like Google should continue to innovate in real-time social… not sure what exactly, but there was [edit – not “is”] something interesting about Wave.(btw – sweet Pixies cover this morning…!)

  17. ErikSchwartz

    “FriendFeed was largely a social aggregator whereas Twitter is a service with specific social intent.”I agree but the question is why and is it applicable to google in this case. Both twitter and friend feed were new, they needed to build a brand, and that brand would be based on the value proposition.Twitter had a very simple value proposition. Twitter allowed users to have a very simple and easy to understand mental model of what twitter was.FF’s value proposition was predicated on the user already using a wide variety of social services. While this was true for the people who love FF, it was not true of the population at large. In addition the mental model of FF is much harder to understand.I think the real value is helping define what the company is.BTW, you have seen a breakout social layer. Friend Feed under the mantle of Facebook seems to have been very successful. But they needed the context of facebook to explain what they are.I think Buzz did poorly because there was not a clear model in the users mind of what it was. Embedding it in the email experience only exacerbated the problem.

    1. loupaglia

      great points Erik, completely agree

    2. ShanaC

      You know, to this day, I still have a poor time explaining what twitter is, even though now I get it.

      1. ErikSchwartz

        It’s easy to explain what twitter is. It’s much harder to explain why it is important.

        1. ShanaC

          Why is the whole point. Once you get the hang of it, it makes intutive sense. My go to answer is getting people involved in a conference (was my first time I got it)

  18. David Semeria

    Yes and no. There are many examples of areas where many people had previously failed and then someone comes along, perhaps with only a few tweaks, and hits the jackpot. Groupon is a good example.I agree that so far stream aggregators have failed (although I was quite fond of FF). It’s the tweaks that will make the difference…..

    1. seanomalone

      devil in the details

  19. Pete

    If Google wants to aggregate something, I’d love it if they aggregated all my contacts and brought them into Gmail. Everyone maintains their information out in the social services, and yet I have to create and maintain my own records in Gmail Contacts. And once they pull in all my relationships from my social networks, they can offer social aggregation services against my contacts, like Xobni or Gist. And then Fred’s social CRM. Google could rock that one.

    1. Alex Murphy

      That would be a cool app to build.

    2. Drew Meyers

      LOVE this idea. I want this too.

    3. Fernando Gutierrez

      I thought Soocial was going there, but I think they have deviated. Now I only use them to sync between Gmail and GApps and have a backup.

  20. Peter Cranstone

    Agreed. I’ve been advocating context on mobile for years. People are just now getting around to realizing that without it, things are pretty much meaningless.As for Twitter. They just became a media company. It was obvious from afar, now all can see. You can’t monetize a Tweet simply because of what you say in your post – it has no context. Most of them are now hash tags, bitly url’s and shortened words such as R U there.What does have context is a web page with more things on it. It now has as you quote above “social intent” In addition you can monetize by leveraging some of the tweets and the users profile (there’s intent in the bio (usually)).For Google to compete with both Facebook and Twitter there must be social intent with context – if so then you can monetize via advertising.As for all the Twitter 3rd party apps… poof and you’re smoke. Now there’s no way to monetize simply because Twitter just switched to the web and you stayed in an app. Once again it doesn’t pay to bet against the web. As we’ll learn in Chapter 2 of Mobile Apps vs. Mobile Web Apps.

    1. fredwilson

      I am with you on apps vs web but that game is far from over

  21. Mark

    Agreed. I dislike Buzz for the same reason: right tools, wrong context.If Google would have built Wave up slowly, and over time, and maybe gave it some personalization, then they might have had something there. Wave could have become a unique environment that evolved out of the users’ intent.It seems Google assumes that our engagement with Google services is the context, and I think you are spot on about intent, Fred. It has never been my intent to mix Google services with my identity. IMO, Apple’s Ping suffers from the same assumptions. You can’t shoe-horn social.

  22. Stefan Wolpers

    A “social layer across all products” is what Google can deliver: certainly the technologically most advanced aggregation of streams, time-lines, flows–you name it. However, once again they will fail to understand this “social thing”, which is interaction in context and not technology.Poor Google. But I appreciate their entrepreneurial spirit. That they still want to succeed where they’re have failed so often before… 🙂

  23. Dan Lewis

    What bothers me about Google Me (and FFeed for that matter) is that they’re products which can only be described by what they do, and not what problem they solve. “Social layer”??? Huh?Articulate the problem.Tell me how your product makes it better.Forget the nonsense.

    1. CJ

      Right, I’d guess if you knitted together Picasa with Orkut and spiced it up with Feedburner subscriptions…you’d still end up with social media designed by engineers answering a question that no one has posed. For Google to succeed they have to answer the question where Facebook is currently the answer, they haven’t shown an ability to do that yet.

    2. harryh

      Agree with this completely. I feel like the problem Google is trying to solve is that they have no successful social products. This, of course, puts the focus on the company instead of the user which drastically decreases the chances of success.

    3. Aaron Klein

      Google is trying to solve a huge problem: that they have no way to monetize social the way they monetize search.Their only issue is that’s not a problem for the rest of us. 🙂

  24. Rurik Bradbury

    I think you are right in general but Google could be the exception. They are so intertwined with our lives. By adding a social layer they could ‘slide in’ to social relevance (think: sliding your arm gradually to steal the armrest in a plane).Interacting with friends’ search history and annotated search recommendations could be huge — like a Super-Quora.

  25. Alex Murphy

    Google is different than both Twitter and Friendfeed, Google is a Search Engine. “Google’s mission is to to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That is why Schmidt wants FB to open up their walled garden, they want all of the information. Google is playing in the world of “he [or she] who has the most data wins.” At this point, they are learning what adds value and what doesn’t. Wave didn’t, Buzz not so much, Google Reader Yes, Gmail is killer.They understand the need for context, and with more data they will have a better chance of delivering information with more context. They just have to watch the line of privacy because they are sticking their fingers into some pretty sensitive areas (i.e. Buzz launch) that continue to get their hands slapped.

  26. Brendan

    From a strategic perspective, aggregators are a commodity, and can more easily be duplicated. There’s little lock-in ability to coax customer loyalty. Core communication channels are unique and cannot easily be duplicated (the basic functions, sure, the full product, which includes any network effects? Nope).

  27. jeffyablon

    BINGO.Fred you phrased that in exactly the correct way. It’s about CONTEXT.It’s also, as one of your other commenters pointed out, about curation.I happen to be part of a team that’s in the middle of creating the next great social network (Hold For Laugh), and the entire point, the reason we believe we can pull this off is that we’re looking at the whole endeavor as being about How and What is being presented and Controlled/Moderated.Facebook is a pile of crap you throw against the wall to see what sticks. With all respect to their tremendous success, they’ve got it wrong and unless they focus things in a way that fits what you’ve pointed out they are ultimately going to stall.Of course, first they’ll make a fortune, so good for them, but users get less and less functional utility over time until they just . . . go away.Google, of course, is Google. They’re in a position to do anything. But unless they focus it better than Facebook has (umm . . . or for that matter better than they traditionally have themselves) it’ll be just another “ME TOO!”.By the way . . . we’re getting ready to take this show on the road, so hey, VCs and Angels . . . I’m listening . . .JY

  28. Jason

    I could see how a social layer around google places could be viable competitor to fb fan pages given the reach of google maps and specific intent of Google merchant center. (like how google talk caught fire through gmail.) and a context of control using gmail would make the product that much more interesting (as opposed to just driving user awareness the way they did buzz.) though that addition to ui would be an innovation in and of itself.

    1. fredwilson

      a social layer around google places would be something like foursquare

      1. Jason

        I was seeing something more like fourwhere + the customer service engagementfb pages provides. it will be interesting to see what the slide acquisitionbrings to the social table beyond the clone and conquer strategy.

  29. M Taylor

    Layers? We don’t need no stinkin’ layers!Seriously, is Google offering a product without a purpose? Intent is form and function while layers are marketing. If Google (or anyone else) is going to attempt to market a prodcut to everyone, then they better be selling air as that is the only thing “everyone” has in common.If someone actually buys this Google Air, they need to be made aware that I am offering timeshares of BOTH Day and Night. Reserve your time slots now!

  30. falicon

    I would agree…and this is very much in-line with my theory/approach with (it builds a personal, searchable, content collection for you based on your social interactions and gives you some interesting alerting and monitoring features too).The only point I would argue a little is that, I don’t know if friendfeed failed in so much as they threw in the towl before they were even out of the first round of the fight.The value isn’t in the aggregation directly, it’s in the features and business around the aggregation…google’s already got all the worlds data, but it wasn’t until there was a feature to advertise around it that they started making any money…

  31. Burgher Jon

    I don’t think it’s Google’s intention to “compete with Facebook”, I think their goal is more to protect their search interests. With that in mind they need a layer of social integration that’s open to them. Whether that’s their product, an open-source platform, or simply facebook opening up their data (with opt-in of course) I don’t think it matters to Google. However, since Facebook doesn’t seem interested in opening up and things like don’t seem to be taking off, Google is going on offense as the best form of defense.

  32. Druce

    More true for early on the adoption curve.Take Garmin or pick any example, the early adopters have to shell out cash and make a use case.Once it becomes a feature of their car or phone not so much.The question is whether social is a product or a feature.I hope Google succeeds because I don’t like Facebook’s attitude that my social graph is something for them to own, determine what I should / can do with, and monetize.

    1. fredwilson

      feature or product is always a big issuebut you can miss some big products if you think they are featuresdisqus is an example of that in my opinion

  33. Matt A. Myers

    I have an idea.I really hope they piggyback Google Chrome and other comparable browsers.I hope they create a plugin for the browser that allows you to manage everything. Other things I’d like to see:- Creating friend connections through their common ID saved on (regardless of username or service it’s from; Facebook, Twitter, OpenID, their email).- Creating connections with online services as well that they choose to; This can also include that if my friends’ privacy settings don’t want services I link to to know I am a friend of theirs, to not pass that information on.- The events you have planned or are planning to attend, for example, linked with the ability to pull and insert any of the above information into your client-side DB.- Where any updates you create are either pushed to a host that gives your friends access to blocks of new information, or in torrent style that sets a marker for friends to download most recent information from user once they are online and in a mode where they are allowing pushed updates (privacy settings on client-side for what is available to each friend or grouping of people).This will allow for client-side browsers, that work while offline too, to function with application services. This will allow users to use the event management software they prefer with standards set and decided. This will allow users to use the photo management software they want to use.This will give incentive and allow services to be developed specifically for this platform to be free (possibly ad-supported to user tolerance levels) or subscription-based.Cut out the middleman. Facilitate and be the doppelganger-middleman through management software.There are many gaps in there in there that businesses can fill and to make money.

  34. sweller

    Fred, I couldn’t agree more. I have a hard time articulating exactly what I think will happen if Google were to open social layers across much of their product similar to how they launched Google Buzz. Google should simply stop messing around and buy Facebook already.Along with intent, to truly capture the power of “social” you need a catalyst. It can be argued that the ability to “tag” a photo on Facebook is quite possibly the most powerful social catalyst on the internet today.

    1. Alex Murphy

      I don’t think Google can buy Facebook. It wouldn’t pass regulatory approval. FB is the first company to offer real competition in online advertising.

  35. loupaglia

    While I agree that Twitter has more direct social intent than Friendfeed, I would not label FF a failure. And there was intent embedded within that service. They had superior technology but were unable to cross to the mainstream with a clear product marketing message on what to do and how to use it. I think this is why Friendfeed was so successful with the technorati and early adopters but could never advance beyond that.I too think Friendfeed is showing itself within the continued innovation of Facebook. The one arena where I think (or I should say) I wish it would have disrupted is the threaded and un-threaded message board. The ‘conversation stream’ is such a more effective mode but it is shocking how much message board installations are still out there.

  36. CJ

    “If you want to compete with Facebook, you have to build a service that offers users a specific social intent and the ability to engage directly around that intent.”I agree. If they somehow manage to pull off the rumored Google Music socially then I think they could use that as a platform to challenge Facebook but as it stands, I just don’t see anything in Google’s ecosystem that says social intent to me. Why would I choose Google of Facebook when everyone I know uses Facebook? Music is one reason, there have to be others.

  37. petewarden

    I spent a lot of time trying to understand how and why Twitter grew in the early days, largely by analyzing who the first few thousand users actually were and interviewing them:…What leapt out at me was the perceived exclusivity of the service. Even though it was open to everyone, it had an image as a place where the Valley elite gathered to chat. The reality was that growth was actually surprisingly strong even in ‘flyover country’, but the aspirational element was a key driver of adoption. It’s well-known how Facebook grew by leveraging the high social status of the Ivy League and progressively opening up to wider circles, but I’d never thought of Twitter using the same mechanism.That’s why I think it’s so tough for Google to launch a new social service. There’s no way they can pretend to have an exclusive club, and without that they lose a key motivator for joining and participating. Building a platform to spread the social actions their users already take on their services isn’t going to give them interesting discussions that draw people in. Those require users to make an initial effort, people need to want to be interesting and manually curate their updates, or it’s just a boring stream of data.

    1. Evan

      This jives with my memory.

    2. Jay Liew

      Hey Pete, I definitely agree on the importance of seeding an initial community with the right crowd (Facebook, Quora, ..). Just wanted to point out that Google did kind of do this – with Google Wave. Wave invites were very exclusive. The crazy high price of Wave invites on eBay was a testament to that. But I suppose it’s tough to quantify if that initial exclusivity did any good since the product failed anyway (which could be for reasons other than that exclusivity ..)Just to add my opinion, there’s the kind of innovation that big companies do that startups cannot do and vice-versa (I can’t remember who first said it, might be Marc Andreessen), and perhaps this is the Big Co type innovation. The “portfolio” approach to innovation. Twitter has 1 product. Google has many, so it make sense that they want to leverage their existing product portfolio.

      1. Mark Essel

        The architecture of the web wasn’t ready for something that didn’t work fluently within it, Wave and web required technical know how to play nice together (special javascript and web plugins along with klunky wave ids). In addition Wave was a bandwidth monster, and huge waves destabilized losing all the collaborative value (my personal experience with a 1500+ person waveguide, wave’s greatest hits kept crashing).

    3. Mark Essel

      Yes!, that’s what’s driving Quora to rapid value now, and what rocketed Foursquare at SXSW.But somewhere along the way to ubiquitous the service becomes an implementation of a protocol that society values, more than a single gateway. This is the nature of the most incredible discoveries of the net. There’s money to be made in becoming ubiquitous, but there’s more social value to be made in providing the greatest choice (of many) for a novel social protocol.

    4. Tereza

      Totally agree Pete. Humans are aspirational beasts.I’ve said for a while that its Harvard provenance was probably a key factor to cut it through the clutter early on. (“It must be great, it’s all the rage at Harvard.” and “Oh, my good friend goes to Harvard….he got me in…”)

    5. Carl Rahn Griffith

      Nicely observed, Pete. Cool piece of research.Twitter appealed to the Mavens primarily, initially. Facebook had its own private club allure, initially, as you have identified.As for Google? Hmmmm.Good catch!

    6. Venkat

      You may have hit on the main reason Google hasn’t really succeeded whether at a social aggregation layer or the specific-intention layer. Even Orkut seems like an accidental success in Brazil and India, and now is being abandoned as people flock to Facebook.Perhaps Google is naively meritocratic.

    7. harryh

      Very interesting comment!> There’s no way they can pretend to have an exclusive club,I wonder if this was one of the big drivers of Gmail? Obviously not exactly the same as a social product but remember how in demand gmail invites were for the first month or two?

    8. vruz

      I disagree. I was among the first people to get a Gmail account, and during the first 6 months or so people would kill for a Gmail account.The exclusivity and artificial scarcity of Gmail accounts did the trick.

  38. Steven Ramirez

    Fred, I agree with your point about context. Something I’ve been asking myself a lot lately when I read about these new services is, “What problem are they trying to solve?”

  39. egoldstein

    I agree with you 100%

  40. Shyam Subramanyan

    Aggregation will have the following uses:1. My mom who wants to see everything I am sharing at Facebook, Twitter, Flickr etc.2. People/potential employers that want to spy/get to know me3. I am egotistical and want to wake up and go to bed watching my aggregated streamand finally4. Google so they can index my activities across social layers and understand my IntentMaybe Google does not care whether they are successful socially with a Facebook like service as long as they understand my intention and can monetize it anyways. After all they did make a killing letting other people build websites and “just” indexing them the best way possible.

  41. Jeffrey McManus

    Social aggregation is the graveyard of online empires. It took hundreds of wasted man-years for Yahoo to learn this. Google is now in the process of learning it.

    1. fredwilson

      wow. what a wonderful opening line Jeffreythat is a winneri reblogged it on

  42. lauraglu

    Doesn’t something like microformats ( count? What about things like Amazon/affiliate links, which are a social shopping layer?Social layers exists, just in a more subtle way than Google intends, unknown to most people online.Google’s attempt to mainstream and make universal this concept may or may not work but it will be fascinating to watch!

  43. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    It is exhausting and confusing to try to keep abreast of all the data/opinion being thrown out. Twitter, and the follow up of reading the relevant or intriguing articles being tweeted in the tech space alone keep me constantly engaged. I like what I read, and want to share it, but I am not sure that is good.So as to your question, I am not sophisticated enough to have a reliable opinion, but I gotta tell you…I have to logout of tweetdeck to stay focused. My FB is mostly about people far and away from me as is my skype. Stuff without a sense of urgency. Integrating my FB social on top of the business is not something I would really want to do, certainly without better tools to tweak on the fly.

  44. jenslapinski

    I think social aggregation happens at a different point in the value chain (stack, if you want to call it that).For example, there are devices where many social interactions come together. The iPhone aggregates in one place a ton of social interaction. Same with the iPad (or other tables). Or the personal computer.Aggregation certainly happens at device level. Really not sure about whether it can happen at app level.

    1. fredwilson

      i like that last line a lot Jens

  45. im2b_dl

    Fred none of the social layers had direct interoperable link to the living room … That could follow you. If Googles social layer is driven by a wide generic commercial audience friendly driven interface they will crush all other social tools. Kinda like I tried to tell the Twitters the Boxees etc.. If Google has access to popular content creation/production they will, as the saying goes… Crush it.

  46. paramendra

    I really liked your direct/blunt question.

  47. ShanaC

    OkI think one of the most important things people fail to understand about even the idea of sociability both in person and on the internet is that we act specifically for the situation because of how we see ourselves in various contexts. So I would say its about situational social intents, one that is governed more closely by some or developed, fluid, “community” norm. One of the hardest things about the web (which apparently google does notice rumor has it) is that there is a flattening effect of messages where we all want only certain people to see what we say. We also seem to only have limited groups close to us. However, if these groups are shifting all the time, and there is context to that closeness (I have some super close female friends who I would never bother sharing anything here, they don’t care, we talk about other stuff) aggregating would only aggravate identity and role confusion.It is also the reason Buzz failed. I get to decide what I think is cool and not cool, in what cointexts, not the machine. And I am fickle and very wetware. And I have no plans on changing that. Buzz intruded on my wetwareness. Friendfeed, again, intruded on my wetwareness. It’s deciding for me how my message should be received.For the record, I have a few college friends in my twitter stream- they have complained about comments being tweeted out because there is 0 context to the titling. (one person suggested getting the blog post title instead of the first line of the comment) Sometimes they do wish they had context. Really, to solve this massive social problem on the internet (because of the way links as representatives of people work), you have to find ways to change social behavior so that people are very willing to be socially connective to those unlike them and topic that they may or may not know about. I would love to segment down myself and my friends on twitter- at some point, I find that eqally unnatural.I have no solution for this problem

    1. CJ

      I have a similar issue/attitude. I have a group of online friends that I share almost anything with, except X & Y. Then I have you guys who know only A & B. Even on Facebook I have groups so that my family doesn’t see Link A but my school friends do but only my immediate family sees my 4Sq checkins. I don’t want all of that grouped and displayed to everyone, even if I’m friends with them all. I’m an online schizophrenic and proud of it, it works for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are some things that just aren’t relevant to all people even if we’re friends.

      1. ShanaC

        You have my quote of the day!

        1. CJ

          Awww shucks. 😀

      2. seanomalone

        Relevancy is the keyword here. Nice.

        1. ShanaC

          I thought it was schizophrenia. There is a point where that much media and you as media can and will make you feel driven crazy

          1. seanomalone

            True. All the more reason relevancy is valuable.

      3. fredwilson

        “only my immediate family sees my 4sq checkins”that is rightmy 4sq graph is a bit bigger but this is such an important issue and not enough people understand it

        1. CJ

          Right, I like how you share your checkins here sometimes but only after the fact, doing so you negate the safety issue and by crafting a story around them when you post them here you tune into the relevancy issue. That’s a great use of it in my opinion and it’s actually what inspired me to sign up for the service as I do a lot of traveling myself. I thought that it would be cool to look back on my travels and the places I’ve visited without having to recall all of the details from memory and with the ability to make notes on the check-in. It also gives some back story to any photos I might take in that particular place/area.

          1. Fernando Gutierrez

            Same for me. I had signed for Foursquare some time ago but wasn’t using it because very few people use it in Spain and I couldn’t get the gaming part. After reading Fred’s posts on his travels this summer I started to use it as a memory of my movements because I also travel a lot. Interestingly, once I was doing it I discovered a few friends that were already using it and I started with the gaming… Now Foursquare is one of the most used apps in my Blackberry.

          2. fredwilson

            That is so great to hear

  48. fekaylius

    Perhaps the question shouldn’t be, “which social environment is more attractive to individuals?”, but something more like, “which social environment is more stimulating for society?” A community comprised of people with a fairly unified intent is surely easier to build tools for and to see measurable results for predefined metrics. A community with diverse, unknown, perhaps unknowable, intent may have a harder time getting consensus about the value of tools or features or use cases, but the network effect on potential benefits of dense interactivity between nodes still exists with fractional buy-in.On a day to day basis, from a personal perspective, yes, I agree with you Fred, comments on this post may seem irrelevant out of context, but social media streams are for fishing, not hunting. I’m getting at a notion that communities might thrive more when efficient social tools are introduced to an array of members with diverse intent than to an array with relatively homogenous intent. Of course those tools need granular controls.

  49. daryn

    Context is everything, but I think there is something at the aggregator / social layer level that can be done better, I just haven’t seen it yet. At a really high level, perhaps it is something like flipboard.Lets take twitter and tumblr for example. I love them both, and their web dashboards and dedicated clients are fantastic for real-time engagement, but none are well suited to “catching up”. With twitter, I’m okay with that; with tumblr, where posts are often less temporal, much less so.What I end up doing is subscribing directly to the RSS feeds of tumblelogs I don’t want to miss anything from, and potentially end up reading those twice: once in google reader and once in the dashboard.Another thing I like to do for social discovery is browse disqus and see where else the commenters I like are posting. Something that automatically teased me to these locations without me doing the grunt work would be great. I guess this is how some of the social stuff in google reader works, I’m just used to that being my feed consumption tool, and haven’t branched out into using any of that yet.

    1. RichardF

      I agree Daryn, I’d love Disqus to become more social

  50. Joe Lazarus

    I agree that social services benefit from social intent. I do, however, think there are some huge, untapped opportunities around social aggregation… particularly for personalization. Nevertheless, Google should steer clear of social features and stick to what they do best. They don’t get the social web, nor do they need to. There are plenty of other opportunities that play to their strengths.

  51. Gary Sharma

    I think its not just about context but “Context + Community”.Context is important but I think Community is just as important a piece of the puzzle. Communities can’t really be bolted on. They take time to grow and need to be nurtured and it is something Google hasn’t shown it has the patience for.Comments around an AVC blog post are the most relevant to read & discuss here on the blog itself because of the excellent community that has built and grown around it over time. I rarely post a comment on a TechCrunch / HuffPo blog post or a YouTube video at their respective sites even though the context is there because the communities are more diluted and less interesting. I am more like to comment on those posts / videos if someone linked to them on Facebook or Tumblr. Tumblr in fact is a great example of how to do community right. Would make a great acquisition for Google.This is one area where the Twitter UI could improve – facilitating better conversations around tweets. Would be great both for consumption and discovery.

    1. Tereza

      Community is essential. There is not social, without community.

    2. fredwilson

      what do you think of the steps they’ve taken to do that in the new twitter web client Gary?

      1. Gary Sharma

        Looking forward to checking it out but unfortunately they haven’t rolled it out to my account yet. From what I see of the screenshots / videos of the UI it looks like a big step in the right direction. The right pane could well become a platform for apps.One thing I am really hoping for (apart from threaded conversations around tweets that I can follow by email) is the ability to search my main twitter timeline stream (tweets from users i’m following) . Its a basic but super useful feature that I’m really surprised is missing.

  52. clatko

    I think you are correct to some extent. Non-technical users didn’t understand Twitter or FriendFeed. But when it came down to it, Twitter was far simpler of the two and a person more likely had a friend on Twitter. This kind of nudged the snowball down the hill.Specific intent is what kept the service so simple, sometimes even too simple. What we are seeing with Facebook is the FriendFeedification of the service. People can add applications to FB and have information streamed into FB. Or not. The site will work for the user to extent they want it to.Where FriendFeed failed was the upstream of content. If someone commented on my Flickr photo, this comment would only be seen by FriendFeed users, not people on Flickr. This severely limits the conversation and could be why FF didn’t take off. FB is trying to act as that upstream aggregator but they are still in the FF position. But more people visit FB and so these comments can exist in that sphere without the need to go upstream.What FriendFeed really needed was that upstream. The Salmon protocol could have maybe saved it. In any case, I think Salmon could be really important in the Facebook case as well.

  53. PhilipPE Cases

    I agree. As an example, I am receiving the same information from uservoice in my email system and in my rss reader. The experience is totally different: it jumps at me in my email system and not at all when I see it on my reader. My rationalization is that what you describe, the intent of my rss feed is to read news whereas the intent of my email system is to take action. My life is fairly organized, I read blogs and RSS feeds early in the morning while having my breakfast on my IPad and also when I have time. If Twitter was more organized, I could see myself integrating RSS and twitter feeds for the most relevant feed but, right now, I use Twitter in between meetings to check if something is happening and I use emails, sms and phone to do actual work. So my life is compartementalized around intent and I would find extremly confusing if all those intents were integrated into one tool.

  54. Mark Hall

    What’s ironic here is that some of the best research I’ve seen on all this came from a Google Research presentation this summer. I wrote a blog post about this here fwiw (in response to a Chris Dixon post): is critical: what are you sharing, and with whom? Another way to think about this (and the argument I make in the post above) is that we aren’t single nodes on the Web; many of us represent ourselves through multiple nodes, on multiple graphs. A lot of us make these distinctions subsconsciously every day, where we share some things with our Facebook graph, other things with our Twitter graph, and still more things with other, different, more specialized graphs (, HypeMachine, Flickr, Foursquare, etc). People are complex (most of us, anyway), we each have multiple facets and interests and social networks. As you note, Fred, the discussion you foster here makes sense to your community at AVC; but if I shared it with my Facebook graph it might seem wildly irrelevant.

    1. fredwilson

      fascinating stuffthanks for sharing it

  55. Morgan Warstler

    I wouldn’t call Twitter a social service – I don’t socialize on it, I read news mainly.Google Me I think has an interesting play precisely because you have different circles:…I don’t know how they turn the corner into your google me acct interacting with other google me accts, tho.

    1. fredwilson

      it is social when you want it to bei use it both ways

  56. Vijay Sundaram

    My guess is that the “social layer” concept is a closer reflection of Google’s plans than “activity stream / aggregation” (though the latter could very well signal more misguided execution a la Buzz). Perhaps I am projecting my own point of view onto Google but I think their mental model is to let the context/intent be driven by an existing application or scenario (messaging, collaboration, media consumption, commerce, etc.) and then integrate relevant social ingredients into those experiences.On paper I think this is the right game plan for Google, though it doesn’t work for startups. Ingredients or layers are in a sense “infrastructure.” Gaining end user adoption of new infrastructure is hard for startups and arguably always requires a compelling application to pull through adoption. Unlike social aggregation in Friendfeed, communication on Twitter and friending on Facebook and checking-in on Foursquare have proven to be compelling enough user scenarios. As a result, these companies are setup well to push “social” and “location” infrastructure. On the other hand, big companies like Google are almost by definition worse at inventing new services and better at pushing infrastructure with their strong brands, wide array of products, broad user base, etc.There are so many activities that people (especially non-Valley people) do that do not require a social- or location-based service. They use “boring” products and services like Microsoft Office, Amazon, and now people even seem to put Salesforce CRM and Google Search in this bucket 🙂 Many of these clearly benefit from social and location ingredients, and so represent easy ways for big companies to introduce these concepts to the masses who don’t have iPhones, data plans, etc.Now all this said, I don’t expect Google to be successful but not because of the social layer strategy. I think Facebook is executing against this same strategy perfectly. The challenge for Google is how they work around their core competencies and DNA to out-invent and out-execute more social- and product-centric companies like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.

    1. CJ

      Here’s the thing, Google just doesn’t have anything aside from Picasa and Reader, that I can see that would benefit from a social layer. I don’t want you in my gmail inbox, no offense. 🙂 Neither do I want you listening to my phone calls with me. Google is good at inventing products that cater to a need…in other words they are good at making apps. They missed the boat with Maps, they could have invented FourSquare before FourSquare but they didn’t see it. But for the most part, Google adding social to existing products is just bloatware.They’re chasing instead of innovating, they’ve stuck a pole in the sand and said “we need to be here in X days”. The problem is that pole is either par or behind the players in that space so when they catch up the other guys have surged ahead because they aren’t playing catch up, they are innovating in the space. Google has to create a space for themselves and then innovate inside of it. They’ve a long way to go.

      1. Vijay Sundaram

        As mentioned, I agree Google faces challenges in competing with the leading startups who are doing interesting social- and location-focused apps. In general Google hasn’t been able to capture to high-engagement scenarios that folks like Yelp, Zynga, Facebook, Foursquare have done, and that goes back to their ability execute on these types of experiences given their competencies and DNA.I disagree that Google doesn’t have any other apps that could benefit from social elements. Gmail is one–as much as you don’t want them in your inbox, they are running your inbox and they are already looking in it to show ads. A startup called Rapportive has received some good attention and traction doing the kind of thing Google could do in Gmail. Maps, Docs, Android, Chrome browser are all apps which have potential still for social and location integration.Now none of this is to say they will execute on it right–I said myself I don’t think they will–I just can’t agree that there is no potential here. There is certainly an X-factor which is playing out in terms of the trust/privacy issue. Google certainly struggles on the perception and adoption (and legal) front because of this, and Facebook is starting to now as well. That in itself does create opportunities for upstarts to slot in, like Foursquare with location, until of course Foursquare becomes a new boogieman.

      2. Dave W Baldwin

        Agree with you 100% Malcom! There is a lot of chasing going on.

  57. Nat Kannan

    Fred, Right on the mark. I totally agree with you. Aggregating loyal audiences versus aggregating content. the latter is easily duplicated and fungible. No real sustainable value as the aggregating audiences.Nat Kannan

    1. fredwilson

      you said it shorter and sweeter than i did nat!

  58. Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

    I’m always amazed that $47.5M in Cash and Stock is failure, I would like to fail too!

    1. fredwilson

      the service was a failurethe company was not because the team was extremely valuable to facebook andothersthere was a very competitive situation to get them

      1. harryh

        It seems like the rate of “talent acquisitions” has increased recently? Is this just because I’ve only started paying attention relatively recently or is this an actual trend?Taking off my “I’ve got a great job @ foursquare already” hat for the moment deals like this really make me think that if you are a talented engineer working at a big company for a basic 6 figure salary you’re really doing it wrong. Get a couple of friends together and start a company. Best case your product takes off and your golden. Worst case, you’ve still got a decent chance of getting picked up in a talent acquisition for 8 figures.

        1. fredwilson

          I don’t think you have a ‘great chance’ of a talent acquisition but thechances have gone up appreciablyIt lowers the downside for sure

  59. Blacknox

    I’m not sure that FriendFeed “failed” either except that I think they failed to see the underlying capability of their product as far more than aggregation. In fact, the first time I used it my instinct was to create private and public Groups around topics, projects, etc. It was actually a very powerful and useful tool that is now being emulated in the market with others creating private Twitter models for work, but theirs was beautifully implemented and easy to use. One more note is that while yes FriendFeed’s model was aggregation, there was and still is a very active community that posts first and foremost via the FriendFeed interface.

  60. Mark Essel

    I’d like to add as a regular visitor here, that when I see Andy Swan or others tweet a Disqus comment out, there’s immediately additional meaning and context and I don’t always read all the comments (but often I find it a high value time cost).There is value in connected social information outside of one context, the value is the people their personal experiences, and the drives and motivations of all the players. Maybe Google can create the perfect personal virtual search assistant, or maybe Kevin Marshall will build it (hint hint, is rapidly learning my personal index of both blogs, social feeds, disqus comments)

    1. CJ

      It was mentioned a day or few ago that being able to subscribe to certain disqus commenters would be a killer feature, I agreed then and still do now. There are some people around that are just money in the bank and I don’t want to miss regardless of the context or content, I’d love to be able to get those comments directly in my inbox.

      1. Mark Essel

        I subscribe to several disqus feeds, you can follow a person’scomments there and subscribeNow I can set up alerts when Andy mentions pappy with Kevin’s tool.Personalized search from all my favorite sources is a powerful thing,and Kevin’s moving fast

    2. RichardF

      Shame Kevin had to take it offline for the moment.I never really saw the point of tweeting out a comment but I now I’m thinking some people are doing it because Disqus does not have the social features that they want as opposed to just self promotion.

    3. fredwilson

      where has andy been lately?when was the last time you saw him here?

      1. Mark Essel

        I keep tabs on Andy throughDisqus friends and subscribe to that feed which is cached inFeeder on my iPod touch. It’s my poor man’s data only phone. My popsay’s I’ll never get a job because the voice quality is low, Iresponded voice com is for rich folks that have time to play golf.I haven’t officially applied to Disqus yet, but wife and I love SF andare ready to swap coasts. It’s got a bunch of high value money plays.

    4. Dave W Baldwin

      Give it just a little time.

  61. Keith Teare

    I agree that in order to “compete with Facebook, you have to build a service that offers users a specific social intent and the ability to engage directly around that intent.”It seems intimidating to think about doing that, and my guess is that in the current context (angel funding for incremental change) few entrepreneurs will take on a challenge of that scale.Google have been developing their social layer ever since acquiring JotSpot. Only now is it seeing the light of day. And based on Eric Schmidt’s comments at Zeigeist the purpose is to inform search, not to replace Facebook.But it is a big opportunity – competing with Facebook. I’m game. AndI have an idea. If you are a developer looking for a mission, ping me.

    1. fredwilson

      if the purpose is to “inform search” they are toastMark Zuckerberg did not build Facbook to “inform search”he built it to have a social interaction with his friendssame with Jack Dorsey, David Karp, etc, etcgreat services are built with a purpose that is focused on the end user’s needsnot to “inform search”

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        On the money! Along with cyclical nature of things, successful fads/products gain market and they seem rather crazy. Then interaction with those products begin to mature.Looking to do another so-called search is not looking forward, for the customer really just wants the answer….and now.Thanks for your insight Mr. Wilson.

  62. Tereza

    A social network is a party. More than anything, it’s about the people that show up.You cannot bring value if you’re only thinking about the product. The product runs in the background. It’s all about the people.Wants to build a social network? Spend some time in nightclub and events promotion. There is basic blocking and tackling employed in that world…and is generally counter-cultural to web…but it works.But to do it you probably need marketing know-how on your team earlier than you might have planned. It involves its own kind of detailed thinking, engineering, and sweat. You have to bake a bit of that directly into your product, too.You need the right venue, timing, and the right host. The caliber of the host directly impacts the caliber of the people who will be invited and who will actually show. The people who do show up have to be in the right mood….in the mood to play — or engage in what you’re doing.This week I went to a whole bunch of Fashion Week parties. Some were amazing and incredibly productive; some were total flops. The best one was in fact the one that was hardest to get into, the celebrities were not paid to be there, they needed to be there for what they were trying to do. Everyone there felt they were in a special place and they were eager to give and get — to participate in making good things happen for each other. A synergistic vibe.A party that does not achieve that vibe, or creates a negative vibe, rapidly hemorrhages guests. I went to a couple where a celebrity was supposed to be there, and were clearly being paid to be there, and then they either didn’t show up or were pissy about being there. You can tell. The tone is palpable. “Let’s get outta here. This party sucks.”If you can’t get the right people in the room, you have no party. Doesn’t matter what a great room it is.

    1. panterosa,

      Tereza,I was at Fashion Night Out last year and this, with a high end provider to many stores so we spoke with many people, at many stores. All the personnel of the stores can’t wait to go home – the crowds are noisy, messy, and trash the store. The FNO event was created to raise awareness back to fashion after the crash, but no one sells anything much since it has become primarily a feel good event, even though discounts are offered.I am there also due to a business I run which makes accessories. One would think it’s a must do event. Actually, not only the brand personnel, but even the people going just all look over their shoulder as to who is showing. We were at top places, and yes celeby etc. But really, fashion is so fickle – and trying to A list an event is much more of a PR stunt than anything.So, yes, who shows is very important. I feel the crowd that shows must be organic to the event – be there for a reason, with purpose. Otherwise, stay home. No critcal mass will be formed with whatever sized group, and hence no ‘social event’ need to attend or record.

  63. Raja

    Fred, what is the social intent of twitter? I would love to hear it in your words.

    1. fredwilson

      sharing your thoughts with the world

  64. Jose Paul Martin

    Honestly Fred, I had the feeling that friendfeed was doomed. There was no real value… the only reason I came across it was because of Scoble… and now I dont bother reading his rants! As you said, aggregation is not useful out of context. Aggregation would be useful, if it could be put into context… when discussing a particular topic… but variety is the spice of life :)Twitter on the other hand, is a social communication platform. Just as email is… the only difference perhaps would be limitation to message size and open-ness (vs privacy of email).

  65. Edwink

    May be google is focusing on profile and offering aggregation only as a tool to simplify the profile creation/update process. I think that the big risk for google is to miss personalized search (which is less about who your friends are and more about who you are and what you like). The brilliant move from facebook was to offer these like buttons which allow users to subconsciously update the profile.

  66. Andy

    I don’t think it is Google’s goal to aggregate social per se …it’s what they subsequently do with that data that matters. Existing services (in this case google search) + social data = brand new product entirely

  67. Venkat

    I agree with your theory. It may be distasteful to some, but there really is no alternative. This is human nature.I am curious about how this applies to your portfolio company Disqus though, since it seems like a potential counter-example. It aggregates comments across blogs, and I see metrics that look like cross-Disqus vanity points (for example, I have 126 comments and 67 likes received so far).Is Disqus really a meaningful social intention layer (“commentosphere”) or is it an example successful social aggregator?

    1. fredwilson

      it doesn’t aggregate those commentsit hosts them and displays them in context on this blog and hundreds of thousands of other ones

  68. Roger Toennis

    I agree strongly. If the internet is an onion, it’s a very young onion with only a few of the layers of the onion that have yet formed.Layers of “social intent” (really like this phrase), that will in many ways hide the underlying technologies/plumbing, are just starting to form. Facebook is the first major layer that hides much of the technology/plumbing and is why it succeeded. It’s social intent is basic and very general..”Stay connected to the lifestreams of friends.” Initially it was at HArvard only but that general theme of course works for the entire human race.Future layers will be more targeted to specific eddies and currents in our overall lifestream. The challenge is to filter and orchestrate the information delivery from these currents and eddies in a way that meets our personalized needs.As Clay Shirky said,..”It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” or perhaps just a lack of filters.

    1. Roger Toennis

      Forgot to mention my take on Twitter.I think Twitter will fail unless you get those guys to add a much richer model for personalized information filtering and also to stop the spread of all the twitter spam.

  69. fghurley

    Great post. The internet has more “normal” people on it now than ever before in history. These people use/want products with a simple sharable concept that give instant gratification.

  70. William Mougayar

    I don’t think social aggregation as an end-goal is where Google will play. The 3 big Networks Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are well entrenched social networks. FB and LinkedIn status streams are starting to look more and more like a slower (but valuable) Twitter stream.But if you think of one’s social graph as being an aggregate of LinkedIn/FB/Twitter graphs, then this aggregate can be used as a means to improve the search experience. What I’m saying is that Google can use our “aggregate social graph” to give each one of us a “GoogleMe” experience that’s personalized. I’ve seen already search results that are split as “results within your network” and these were pretty good, actually more contextual than the general results. That’s what I would do, if I was Google.

  71. Marco Fabbri

    I agree, another definition of “service with a specific intent” may be “situated software”, i.e. software designed in and for a particular social situation or context, as in this Clay Shirky’s 2004 essay: “…”. Some may argue aggregation is a “social context” per se: on friendfeed you have “heavy users” (a niche) relying much more on the ability of comment/discuss on shared stories rather than the bare aggregation of many activity streams. Hence it is difficult to find a huge value in aggregation also considering it as a “social context”.

  72. Matthew Waugh

    Google already has many of the components of Facebook. Picassa, Chat, Mail etc., So when they say “social layer” I assumed they meant pull all that stuff together so it’s not disjoint but is a harmonious whole.Google has a huge built-in audience, you don’t really want to walk away from that and invent a new tool and have to get people to “sign-up”, even though, for Google, that just means using their existing account.Will they, can they, be successful in that attempt? Depends if it just looks like a social layer or if it really is a fully integrated solution and, either way, will people migrate away from Facebook?

  73. James Gross

    Media wants to be liquid Value is still in the uncopyable. Network Effects rule.

  74. TK

    Context is incredibly important. Over at Main Street (, we’re aggregating reviews and conversations from Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, CitySearch, and Yelp onto one single page. However, those reviews on their own wouldn’t make any sense, so we create a single beautiful page for each business showcasing those conversations — thereby giving it context.Here’s an example:

  75. Dave W Baldwin

    I’m going to go on a ledge and mean no disrespect Mr. Wilson. Your spoonful of wisdom followed by great give and take has made my day.A question for everyone is: What would you give to have the tool that could automatically sort and deliver (oral command) information/opinion from whom you want. The tool will perform actions across the spectrum of social behavior (business contacts, timelines, even match making) and provide the connection to the business sector associated with these niches?As we move through the next year, the customer will be more concerned with gaining what they want, at any moment in real time, which is good. The ’15 minutes of fame’ as experienced thru FB, like you just came out of the restroom will be less important.This is not meant to knock FB, just looking at it from the point related to how cycles work.Thanks again everybody. Your opinion would be appreciated

  76. Peter Clark

    do you think Last.FM was an aggregator or showed intent?

    1. fredwilson

      intent via scrobblingthat was the genius of it

  77. Marie

    I though Google’s answer for the social media battle is Buzz. I didn’t even know that there is a Google Me…

  78. fredwilson

    we need to hire an AVC analyst Charliemaybe Anand can fill that role

  79. anand

    I would do it in a heartbeat. 🙂