Why Google doesn’t need Facebook

facebooklogo.PNG.pngFacebook is a tremendous success and I am certain Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t wake up in the morning regretting his decision to drop out of college and start Facebook. He has turned down huge reported offers of $1 billion for his social network and continues to innovate and improve Facebook. There have been rumours that everyone from Microsoft to Yahoo! (again) to Google are looking to buy Facebook and none of them have turned out to be accurate (so far).

Orkut logo.pngThis morning I realised why Google probably isn’t betting its business on being able to buy Facebook. It has a social network of its own with a userbase that dwarf’s Facebook’s and while it isn’t quite as good looking and functional as Facebook, it is getting there. So what is this social network? Ever heard of Orkut? If you are outside India and South America you may not have. Orkut is pretty popular in those two regions, one of which is one of the most populous regions in the world. To give you an idea where Orkut stands in the scheme of things, take a look at this table I found on the Lightspeed Venture Partners blog:

Another helpful table is this table based on the amount of time spent on each social networking site:

Both tables present an interesting take on the top social networking sites. While Facebook has had far more exposure in the West and here in South Africa, Orkut is big where it counts. It is popular in countries with massive populations and is owned by another giant, Google. As you can see from the screenshots I took of my profiles on both services, Orkut is getting there but doesn’t quite overtake Facebook in terms of functionality and overall usability but it is getting pretty close.


Facebook screenshot


Orkut screenshot

Orkut allows users to import feeds into their profiles, include images uploaded to Picasa, Flickr and other photo sharing sites and also to add videos uploaded to YouTube using the URLs for those videos. There are a number of communities which are searchable by keyword and category. What would be really useful is the ability to scan my Gmail contacts for friends who use Orkut and who are in my address book already. Orkut allows for integration with Google Talk so my Orkut friends can see when I am around and get in touch with me through Orkut on Google Talk (if I understand that correctly). I can also add my other IM account details too.

Facebook has the advantage with features like the newsfeed (although I am yet to add friends to my Orkut profile so I may find that this is possible in Orkut too), its applications which add functionality. So why should we care about Orkut, even if it does have a significantly larger userbase than Facebook and doesn’t quite match up to Facebook’s many wonders? Here is what Scoble said a little while ago:

Anyway, why could Orkut come back and get us all to shut up about Facebook? Do you remember who owns Orkut? Yeah, those evil kids over at Google.

Now, why is that important? Well, for one, most of the early adopters I know are on Gmail. I’m on it too, even though I keep my crusty old Hotmail account. Google has the best mobile app on my mobile phone too. Maps, if you’re on the iPhone, but if you’re on Nokia the Mobile Google app suite is really great. Lots of you, I know, are on iGoogle, which looks a little bit like Facebook’s profile page. Lots of you are using other things from Google. Picasa, for instance. Or customized Google searches. Or Google Reader. All of which would really benefit from having a Google Identity System.

So, could Google redesign Orkut, make it nice looking and functional (one of Facebook’s greatest attributes) which would appeal to people like me who are looking for the next shiny thing to use functional identity system and application delivery platform that gets everyone excited.

I don’t see anyone else who could get us all to shut up about Facebook. Do you?

There is one other big benefit Orkut adds straight out the box. Facebook is being used quite a bit as a business networking tool and is being punted as a LinkedIn killer. What I found interesting is that Orkut supports business profiles alongside personal profiles and while it doesn’t quite equal LinkedIn’s or even Plaxo Pulse’s functionality, the potential is right there.

What would happen is Google did a little more than a facelift and started building more functionality into Orkut? We could soon see Orkut not only dwarf the other network sites in terms of users but also surpass them in terms of functionality. For the time being it is worth maintaining a presence on Orkut if you want to be part of such a massive network, especially if you do business in either South America or India.

(Inspiration for this post: protocolinpractice)

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