Your Life Revolves Around Yahoo, Google & Facebook?
Mar 12, 2009 16:37
The Valley's biggest players are all racing to be the center of your
online life, collecting your photos, blog posts, Twitter messages, and
comments into one stream — and then dosing it with real-time ads.
Facebook is unveiling a redesign (left) which replaces its friend-tracking News Feed
feature with the Stream. The biggest difference: Corporate Facebook
pages, for which users sign up to be "fans," can now place stories in
the Stream much more frequently than they did with the News Feed.
Through a feature called Facebook Connect, Facebook already collects
activities on other websites — like Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Digg
headline votes, (and, yes, comments on Gawker Media sites like Gawker
and Valleywag) — and posts them in the News Feed. Those will become
even more prominent in the Stream.
The result: Facebook profiles will show less of what your real
friends are doing, and more of what corporate pals like Starbucks and
Ben & Jerry's are up to.
Facebook is not alone. Twitter's investors have been hinting that
they're going to make money by helping companies have a presence on the
site and get their messages out to users. It's not advertising like
old-school banners or Google's text ads — it's something new, and more
Valley insiders call it "lifestreaming,"
but a more common term is "aggregation." ("Lifestreaming" is not to be
confused with "lifecasting," which means broadcasting your life 24/7 on
a mobile webcam.)
The trend was arguably pioneered by FriendFeed,
a startup little-known outside Silicon Valley founded by some
ex-Googlers. Like Facebook, FriendFeed pulls together updated of users'
activities from across multiple websites and lets users comment on
them. It has mostly been embraced by crazed early adopters who sign up
for every new website that comes along. For people who have never heard
of Plurk or Reddit or BrightKite, it's not as useful today — but the
startup's ambitions have nevertheless sparked a competitive race for a
market that barely exists today.
Google, the current king of online advertising, is racing to catch
up to FriendFeed and Facebook. Last year, it poached Yahoo executive
Bradley Horowitz, who formerly oversaw Flickr and other social
websites, to run a secret social-networking project. We hear that's
coming to fruition, and may be based on Google's Blogger blogging site,
which already has user profiles. (Orkut, a Google-owned social network,
will probably fall by the wayside; it is losing ground to Facebook in
the few countries, like Pakistan, where it has dominated.)
Yahoo, even without Horowitz, has been proceeding with a plan to
build a social profile; it may launch next month, according to a Yahoo
insider. And AOL spent $850 million on also-ran social network Bebo,
which is now merging with its AOL Instant Messenger chat client, in an
effort to catch up to the lifestreaming trend. Microsoft, too, is experimenting with a social update service.
The goal with all of these is the same: Gather up users' scattered
online lives, and then daub the result with personalized, real-time
ads. Instead of waiting for you to search for something, advertisers
will target every step you take on the Internet.
The irony, as ever in Silicon Valley, is that everyone is racing to
corner a market that may not exist. Twitter is arguably the purest
lifestreaming startup around, and it's not making any money at all; all
of its business schemes are currently just dreams. Facebook's expenses
grow with every user it adds. And yet Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL
seem convinced that lifestreaming is a business they need to be in.
Could it be, in the end, that our lives are not interesting enough for
a commercial break?