Google plus came late and appears to be leaving early, but is it really leaving or has it done the job it came to do? Perhaps these aren't the 'end of the road' realities that some were predicting, but they are indicative that the face of social media is changing. A lot.
Feeding the stream.
When Facebook bought FriendFeed, it came with a lot of hype and a big price tag, now that it's closing the purchase looks like a mistake. In the interim it taught them about filtering and fine tuning a feed to maximise the opportunity to monetise it. It taught them a lot about load management for feeds too. FriendFeed may look like a mistake but all the learning is now generating cash in Facebook advertising with businesses that have to pay to promote through the filters placed on the feed. Facebook also bought whatsapp too and that's not evolving much whilst Facebook messaging is changing, under the hood perhaps quite a lot. One business teaches another, whatsapp will end up disappearing too, just not yet.
Live streamed video.
Google brought YouTube and used Google plus hangouts to learn about streaming and live mass market public broadcasting whilst at the same time honing Google Adwords and understanding about optimising keyword and geographic business advertising. What's happening in YouTube? Google may have really only just begun. Video advertising is growing, fast. Video uploads and usage continues to increase steeply.
The winner of the game
Who wins and what's the endgame? In the early days of any social shift the answers are always hard to predict and often nobody knows. I think it's now becoming clearer that the winner is the one with all the conversation, but the mechanism and means of conversation shifts as technology developed. First Mobile phones did the job, then text messaging, then early forms of social media, then the platforms we have now, but tomorrow won't look like today, and a number of factors drive that.
Technology is converging, the hardware is giving us voice, video, text, data analysis, and more in hand held devices that work anywhere on the planet, with universal instant connectivity at data speeds that allow one to all broadcast of video by anyone. The conversation hasn't even really started, so predicting where it will be best monetised is hard. Google plus did something massive, it made the opportunity seem feasible, and by buying YouTube they made it real. Much done, much more to do.
Society wants to be together, to be social, to chat, but the written word is open to abuse and misuse, it loses too much in translation. Conversation isn't conversation if it's really multiple asynchronous monologue without empathy or emotional insight. That's good enough when there's nothing better - being able to reach across the world to get a message to a dying friend will always have great value - but if there is something that cements relationships faster then people will use it. (As an aside - Twitter's not really creating conversation, although there is some conversation on the platform, but it does create topic awareness, very fast)
Relationships are about more than conversations, and a lot more than being aware of 'trending' topics. Google plus didn't create better conversation than Facebook so for most people there was little to no incentive to move. Google Hangouts, streamed video and mass real time video conversations could be enough when the technology makes the quality reliable and the set up simple, and adoption more widespread. That's really close. Facebook recently made video loaded to its servers have much higher visibility that linked streamed video, that says they see the opportunity and want the monetisation, the video battle is just beginning. More conversations will move to streamed video, particularly the more important (and, I'd say, business focussed) ones.
There's more to come after that - face to face meeting will always have more value than video meeting and event social networking is really young. Whilst Event booking platforms like EventBrite solve the ticketing issue it's Meetup that's disrupting the market. By driving local people to join local groups and attend events they are also creating a conversation platform. That's doing something that is beginning to threaten the lack of marketing support elsewhere. The model is different too, with organisers paying to run "groups" to whom they can market freely rather than paying for each event to market to a more diverse less focused audience. Who is going to buy Meetup? Someone will.
Who else can play?
We shouldn't underestimate non social-media companies that have a vested interest in the integration of Events, Conversation, Marketing, Sales and underlying relationships. What will happen when, in one device, you have a simple means to collect money, to store transactions, checking tickets, stream the event live and create back of the room products? Chances are we'd move to a single service provider quickly and on masse, provided they also have the means of having the conversations we need and want. What happens when one company that has the hardware and technology and has enough cash to buy all the conversations too? Apple can, when they choose.
The social media revolution is only in its infancy. Some current big players won't be around in 10 years, others will have risen to new heights, and how you interact with other, or do business with them, won't be how we do it today. Who's the winner going to be? It may even be someone we haven't yet heard of William Buist.