The Social Media Race to Real-Time Communications
A handful of key factors will determine the technology (and by association, the vendor) that will ultimately dominate this burgeoning realm of telecommunications.
Last week's launch of Google Plus (Google+) has set-off a wave (no pun intended) of Internet chatter about the "Hangout" functionality found in the search giant's upstart social networking platform. While Mark Zuckerberg is publicly dismissive of Google's potential competitive threat, Facebook moved quickly to announce their one-to-one video conferencing application powered by a browser-embedded Skype component. It seems obvious that real-time communications (chat, voice and video) are considered strategically important to both companies in their attempts to win the hearts and eyeballs of their existing and prospective users.
Facebook's announcement of their Skype-powered video chat functionality was a retaliatory strike. This was clearly an attempt to distract people from the buzz (again, no pun intended) building around Google+ and its unique real-time communications features. Ironically, Facebook's "awesome" video capabilities were in the Google Talk application more than two years ago. Add to that the fact that Google's Hangout is built using the open source webRTC specification and is open by its design, and I am reluctant to even put the two solutions into the same category. Facebook's solution is a "me too". Still, Facebook has a reported 750 million users worldwide who spend a significant amount of their online time glued to that site voyueristically trolling the lives of their friends and colleagues. Their ownership of eyeballs cannot be underestimated.
In recent months, I have read a number of articles and blog posts addressing the perceived "death of the phone number" and an anticipated migration to public networks and social platforms for everything from voice calls to text/SMS and video conferencing. I agree with the premise that an ever-increasing percentage of real-time communications will occur in these environments over the next three to five years but I believe that a handful of key factors will determine the technology (and by association, the vendor) that will ultimately dominate this burgeoning realm of telecommunications.
Google has a number of competitive advantages in the real-time communications category that should, at the very least, make Facebook, Skype, Microsoft and even Apple uncomfortable. First, Google operates an infrastructure that dwarfs that of Facebook, Apple or any other competitor in the "cloud". Google is able to deploy new applications and capabilities on a scale and at a speed that others simply cannot match. Secondly, Google's real-time communications are built upon open standards architectures that can be interoperated with outside platforms and applications in ways not available to the more proprietary technologies like Skype and Facetime. This is likely to lead to much broader developer adoption of Google's platform. Lastly, Google has a broad inventory of web properties that seem to be slowly coalescing into Google+ and will likely result in a significant expansion of collaboration features (document collaboration, web presentation, desktop collaboration, etc.) and strip Microsoft/Skype of their potential competitive position in that arena.
As the two primary competitors for real-time communications in a social network, Google and Facebook are charting new telecommunications territory. Independent of who might ultimately float to the surface as the better of these two in the real-time communications game, this competition will undoubtedly accelerate the pace of innovation and bring a wider array of more interesting choices to you, the consumer. We will each naturally gravitate to the solution(s) that we find most useful and/or compelling. At a minimum, Google has shown that it's serious about competing in the social network space with Google+ but until it grows its population, Facebook will be where all your friends can be found. I look forward to the new tools that this fresh round of competition will foster.