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A Web-Wide Social Network?


A Web-Wide Social Network?

Moves by Google, Facebook and MySpace Point to Crumbling Walls in the Social-Media Space

NEW YORK ( -- Three announcements, all within a week of each other, were indicative of the same trend: that the future of online social networking doesn't live within a single entity's walls but instead permeates the web

MySpace, Facebook and Google each announced similar-sounding moves over the past week that will be worth paying attention to as marketers watch to see how the social web evolves. MySpace on May 7 said it would open up its profile data to third-party sites. Two days later Facebook said it would let users to connect their Facebook accounts to third-party applications and websites, and that it would also allow developers to incorporate Facebook friend data into other sites and applications. And today Google is announcing FriendConnect, a service that lets website owners add social applications to their sites.

Sites are blending

The moves are unrelated, according to the companies involved, but they all suggest what many web watchers and pundits have been expecting: that social-media tools and services would spread throughout the wider web, rather than stay contained within a single service.

Forrester's Charlene Li is one of those believers. She has described how social networks will be "like air." She writes on her blog: "I thought about my grade-school kids, who in 10 years will be in the midst of social network engagement. I believe they (and we) will look back to 2008 and think it archaic and quaint that we had to go to a destination like Facebook or LinkedIn to 'be social.'

"Instead, I believe that in the future, social networks will be like air," she continued. "They will be anywhere and everywhere we need and want them to be."

The moves announced hardly make those services "like air." But they do signify that sites such as MySpace and Facebook are open to the idea of moving their user data and social connections to the broader web.

MySpace's moves will make user profile data more portable, and allow users to link their MySpace profiles to their profiles on other services, such as Twitter. Updates to a MySpace profile would then be automatically reflected on linked profiles elsewhere on the web.

Facebook gets friendlier

Facebook Connect, meanwhile, appears to be a developer-friendly move that harkens back to when it allowed third-party developers to create applications that took advantage of Facebook's so-called social graph and allowed users to communicate and play games with others on Facebook through those applications. With the new service, a Facebook user, for example, can easily see on which stories his or her Facebook friends voted up.

Google's FriendConnect is more of a strategy to add social-media-enabling widgets to sites. Site owners can add a "snippet of code," according to Google, and immediately add tools such as reviews, members' galleries and message boards to their sites. They will also be able to add applications built using the OpenSocial platform that Google spearheaded. Users can import friends and interact via those applications with friends from other social networks, such as Facebook, Hi5 and Plaxo. The idea, said Google, is that any site can become an open social container.

"When the web is healthy and when more people have more ways to be more engaged online, our business is healthy," David Glazer, a director of engineering at Google, said on a conference call announcing the service.

Even traditional media companies such as CBS understand the importance of spreading their social tools among third-party sites. CBS's hyper-syndication web-video strategy also includes technology that lets CBS viewers chat with each other while watching content, even if they're watching that content off

Listen up, marketers

So what does this mean for marketers? It means more consumers talking to each other across the web, and it means discussions around brands are no longer siloed to a single platform or network but are spreading to a wider swath of sites. If a marketer didn't have a social-media "listening" plan, these kinds of developments could make tracking conversations consumers are having about a brand more difficult, but also make it more important

hat marketers do so.

Imagine if you could easily take the conversation about brands that's occurring on Twitter and embed that into other sites via one of these services, said Rodney Rumford, CEO of Gravitational Media, an agency that has helped brands such as Vivendi and Mountain Dew have a presence in social networks, and editor of Additionally, branded websites and widgets will be able to use the technologies to become "more social."

"This is huge, the combination of the MySpace, Facebook and Google all saying basically the same thing, which is say that websites can become more interesting and engaging when you add a social layer to them," Mr. Rumford said



 Facebook's New Friends Abroad

The social network is adding more language capability, further proof that growth outside the U.S. is vital for Facebook and MySpace

Facebook is stepping up its international expansion. The Palo Alto (Calif.)-based company will introduce tools that translate the site into four additional languages: Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, and Polish, has learned. In the coming months, Facebook also plans to include another 20 languages, including Chinese, says Javier Olivan, international manager at Facebook, in a telephone interview from Germany. Facebook already offers Spanish, French, and German translation tools.

"The international component is really important for us," Olivan says. Expanding abroad has become a key source of audience growth for Facebook and MySpace, the largest U.S. social network. Of Facebook's 110 million users worldwide, more than 60% are outside the U.S. Non-U.S. users account for more than 30% of the 117 million people registered for MySpace, owned by News Corp. (NWS). What's more, audiences are growing faster abroad than in the U.S., where both sites are starting to plateau among the 18- to 34-year-olds most likely to spend hours socializing online each month.

A Slow U.S. Ad Market

The foreign audiences provide a key financial benefit, too. MySpace expects that advertising to non-U.S. audiences will soon account for 50% of the site's revenues, says Jeff Berman, MySpace's president of sales and marketing. The company has launched 29 country-specific sites in the past couple of years with Indian and Korean sites rolling out just last month (, 10/8/07). The strategy is to expand to markets where the U.S. site has already generated buzz and where advertisers have interest. "We are being strategic about where we expand," Berman says.

Getting big abroad is particularly important as social networks find it harder than expected to crack the U.S. online ad market. On May 13, eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson cut projections for 2008 U.S. social-network ad spending (, 5/13/08) by $200 million, to $1.4 billion. She blamed an economic slowdown that's putting pressure on advertising budgets and social-networking executives who made overzealous revenue forecast estimates for the year. "Finding what works takes a lot of time and it is moving more slowly than these companies had expected," Williamson says.

Teams vs. Translation

While MySpace and Facebook see much future revenue coming from foreign friends, the companies have very different ideas of the best way to grab audiences abroad. MySpace has focused on rolling out country-specific sites, complete with a local MySpace office that tailors content to specific audiences.

Facebook has instead focused on providing a technical solution—a one-click downloadable application—to translate the existing U.S. site into other languages. The company also invites users to help translate terms such as "poke," Facebook's unspoken equivalent of "hi," and then submits nominated terms for a vote. (In the Spanish-language version of the site, "poke" is "toques.")

Both strategies have benefits. Facebook's strategy helps the company enter new markets swiftly. The company is able to reach a whole new base of potential users without first hiring people to run a local branch. "Through the translations we are seeing mass adoption in those markets," Olivan says. He adds that because the site is a communication tool, the company doesn't need to do much else to localize it. "The translation approach allows us to support literally every language in the world," Olivan says.

MySpace's Berman says local bureaus can tailor the site to the tastes of users in specific countries, thus helping fuel adoption. For example, the site launched in Spain with a concert by the Smashing Pumpkins, an American band that is more popular in that country than it is in many parts of the U.S. Berman credits the concert with helping to hype the site. "Our teams are all based in local countries with local ad-sales teams," he notes.

Critical Mass

Another reason to bulk up abroad: MySpace and Facebook face competition from homegrown social networks and other social media. In China, for example, free instant-messaging service QQ is the main way many Web surfers keep in touch. Google's (GOOG) Orkut social network is popular in Brazil and India. Social network Hi5 is ahead in many parts of Central and South America.

A key to outdoing the competition is the sites' developer workshops, where executives from MySpace and Facebook go to local countries and help people seeking to create programs for the social networks. The myriad programs created for the sites since opening up to third parties have helped fuel additional growth both in the U.S. and abroad. MySpace's development team has held so-called DevJam events in India, China, Japan, Australia, Sweden, and Britain, among other countries. On May 14, Facebook held its own Developer Garage in Germany. Olivan attended.

The other big factor in the sites taking off internationally is simply having a critical mass of users. Friends bring their friends, who in turn bring other users. Olivan's hope is that the social network will become a critical communication tool, akin to the phone. "People use the phone all over the world," he says. So, why not Facebook? The world's Norwegian speakers will soon get their chance.




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