Two months ago Nelson Minar wrote a post entitled Stop making social networks, Facebook won where he argues that websites should just treat Facebook as the one true social graph instead of trying to build their own. I agree a lot with what Nelson wrote which some people tell me conflicts with my argument that There will be many social graphs. I thought that the best way to illustrate this seeming contradictory thinking is by comparing two sites that the media considers competitors to Facebook in different ways; Twitter and FourSquare.

How Twitter and FourSquare position themselves against Facebook

Recently, Twitter’s VP of business and corporate development spoke at Nokia World 2010 where he proclaimed that Twitter is NOT a social network. Below are some excerpts from ReadWriteWeb’s coverage of his talk.

says Thau: Twitter is for news. Twitter is for content. Twitter is for information.

So Twitter Is "News"?

Yes, says Thau. Twitter is changing the very nature of news today. Journalists are sending their stories to Twitter and some are even publishing directly to Twitter. It's also allowing everyday users to become journalists themselves by providing them with a simple mechanism to break news.

"The guy who saw a plane land on the Hudson River right in front of him didn't think to send an email," says Thau. "He tweeted it."

Thau also wanted to assure Twitter users it's OK if you think you're not interesting enough to have your own Twitter account. Don't apologize if you don't tweet - just come to Twitter and consume content instead. After all, plenty of people already do just that.

The key thing here is that Twitter is arguing that the primary relationships on the site are not “social”. They are producer<->consumer where the product is news and other information content.

Dennis Crowley of FourSquare made more direct comparisons between his service and Facebook in an interview with TechCrunch.

On why the world needs more than one social graph

Our social graph is more representative of the people that you meet in the real world. I am starting to believe, if you asked me a year ago, Why would you ever need more than one social graph? You need representation of a couple of them. Between the three, Facebook is literally everyone I’ve ever shaken hands with at a conference or kissed on the cheek at Easter. Twitter seems to be everyone I am entertained by or I wish to meet some day. Foursquare seems to be everyone I run into on a regular basis. All three of those social graphs are powerful in their own.

The FourSquare argument is that services that create new social graphs that are tied to a specific social context can continue to exist and grow in a world where social networking is dominated by Facebook’s website and Facebook Connect.


Facebook’s trajectory: Adding a social element to every online activity

Before analyzing the wisdom of the approaches that FourSquare and Twitter have taken to differentiate their offerings from Facebook, it is a good idea to have an idea of Facebook’s ultimate strategy. This isn’t hard since Zuckerberg and other Facebook regularly share this with TechCrunch. Below is an excerpt from an article titled Zuckerberg: Facebook Photos Used 5 Or 6 Times More Than Competitors — Combined which describes their long term strategy

He noted that when they launched the product, they didn’t have all of the features that their competitors did. For example, they didn’t have high-resolution photos and you couldn’t print them. But one thing they did have was the social element — and this changed everything.

“Those features by themselves were more important than anything else combined,” Zuckerberg said of the social elements of Facebook Photos. He then dropped the competitor bomb. “The photo product that we have is maybe five or six times more used than every other product on the web — combined,” Zuckerberg stated.

And it was clear from both Zuckerberg and CTO Bret Taylor’s talk at the event that photos to them was the harbinger of things that eventually came — and will still come.

Taylor noted that he had been “brainwashed by Silicon Valley” before he saw and understood the power of Facebook Photos (he was likely working at Google at the time). He had been thinking like an engineer about the best way to organize photos on the web. But he quickly realized that “the best possible organization of photos is around people,” Taylor said.

“There are ten other industries waiting to have this type of disruption,” Taylor said noting the travel industry, e-commerce, and music as a few of them. Earlier, Zuckerberg agreed. Because of the social element, “every single vertical will be transformed.“

Facebook’s social graph is a graph of people I know or have met. Facebook’s fundamental strategy is to build a product and platform where key online activities are improved by adding the social element of people you know. Where Facebook has been dominant is when the activity is one that already related to interacting with people you know. Facebook has beaten geek favorites like Gmail, Flickr and Delicious as the way regular people share private messages, photos and links online. This is both due to the powerful network effects of a social networking product and the fact that their graph maps 100% to the people one typically wants to indulge in those activities with.

Facebook has had less success with products where their graph doesn’t correspond well with the target activity. The best examples of this are Facebook Marketplace versus eBay/Craig's List or Facebook Questions versus Yahoo! Answers. In both of these comparisons, Facebook isn’t even on the radar of the market leader. This is because activities such as buying someone’s old junk really need a wider net than just your friends, family and coworkers.

This is where the positioning and focus of Twitter as a news service as opposed to a social network puts them in a good place in comparison to Facebook. Twitter is where I go to get entertainment and news about the topics I’m interested in from subject matter experts. These subject matter experts (in many cases bloggers, minor & major celebrities) are not people I know nor  have I met. This is distinct from my Facebook social graph but has some overlap depending on how much of a subject matter expert I am myself. On the other hand, FourSquare is a place where I go to share my location with people I know or have met. This set of people is almost always a subset of the people in my Facebook social graph. The only value additions you get from FourSquare are the game mechanics and deals (not anymore). FourSquare has unfortunately reached the point where the only practical difference between using it versus Facebook Places is that I get to be mayor of my local Gymboree and collect two dozen video game style achievements. Personally I’ve already grown bored with the game mechanics and suspect that targeting the console gaming demographic guarantees it will be a niche service at best.

The bottom line is that if the primary focus of your product is that it connects people with their friends, family and others they know around a particular activity then you need to be able to answer the question as to how your product can compete in a world where your service is a feature of Facebook or of an app on its platform.

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Monday, November 8, 2010 3:12:09 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
No, the difference between Foursquare and Facebook Places is that people actually *use* Foursquare. Nobody uses Facebook Places.

The only value in a location system is if people use it. Facebook is too late to the game.
Monday, November 8, 2010 5:25:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I agree that FourSquare is toast, but I also think that the whole social element itself is a red-herring.

The value proposition for Facebook Places is that you get deals, not that you get to tell your friends about it. The only reason Facebook tells your friends about your checkins is to bootstrap usage of Facebook Places. In other words, the social element is being used to boot-strap the feature, and is not part of the core value proposition.

And this value proposition of deals is provided by others (Yelp and FourSquare). The only reason Facebook Places will succeed is (a) it provides more deals OR/AND (b) It is more convenient to use since more people have the app installed. Or a combination of both (more deals from businesses because more people use it).
Monday, November 8, 2010 5:41:46 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Inder: The social element is the ONLY value to any location based service. Most people could care less about the "deals". Deals is not a value-add, it's a bootstrap. The real value is in using it as part of your relationship with other people.
Monday, November 8, 2010 6:06:36 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Strange that we live in a world where saving money is a side-effect, and social is the goal. Certainly, many economists would cringe at that assertion you make.

Perhaps that is the case for some subset of Facebook users, but I do not believe that holds true for ALL facebook users, or for even a significant fraction of Facebook users. If what you say were the case, Gap would not have to give away free 10,000 jeans for the first 10,000 users who checked into a Gap store. For the thousands of people who tried to check-in, social was not the primary goal; the free pair of jeans was.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 7:54:57 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I don't like facebook social networking as it's hard to "unfollow" anyone or "block" anyone as it linked almost everyone inside as "friends of friends" and it's like peer pressure to add them as friends if they asked.

In twitter, I get to control who I follow, unfollow and block giving me the freedom to make new friends & remove people who try to market me expert SEO engines & financial freedom MLM or even some bots to repeat spam me with some dubious links.

People know about the control we have in twitter hence don't really go real nasty in their comments or actions in twitter making it a much more friendly environment.

Facebook links too much games to make it a privacy problems when people who knows your boss get to knows you spent too much time during working hours harvesting some virtual farms online.

Twitter simply is a group of people talking, some talk news or gossips, some just talk to themselves. If you want to chip in your input, feel free otherwise just listen & be educated.

If you like what you hear, you retweet to others that follows you.

Facebook, is more scary in terms of privacy as your friends's friends can get to know you through your friends connection with you and they can see everything you set for friends alone.

Twitter don't hold so much information of ourselves but if you want to know me you can always chat with me via twitter but if you are a spammer or marketers it's easy to unfollow & block & forgotten.

Facebook to me is trying to market me advertisements that my friends like but don't put our privacy & personal interest upfront and fails to give me the sense of security.

Facebook is going to the "friendsters" or "myspace" soon with more violation of our privacy.

Twitter is a form of mass communications & real time news gathering instead.
Saturday, November 13, 2010 6:55:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
The clear differentiator with Facebook Places is the personalization, and the connectedness. I discuss it in this blog post:

Facebook Places - This Time Its Personal
Monday, November 15, 2010 7:39:26 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Both the social networking sites are giving a good competition to this competitive world,Face book has the highest visitors than twitter,Twitter is next going to release a local business,with google map along with it, face book has already released market place, for the local business to happen..
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