Today the internet seems to be buzzing (pun intended) with the rumour Google is building a “Facebook Killer” called “Google Me”. The news broke when Digg founder Kevin Rose tweeted (what else!) about the existence of Google Me. The tweet was pulled soon afterwards, but then former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo “confirmed” the rumour.
The general consensus on the different tech-blogs (Gizmodo, InsideFacebook, Huffington Post, and others) is not very favourable as to the success of a Google Social Network, and I can’t really blame them, since the latest two killers (E-mail killer Google Wave and Twitter killer Google Buzz) haven’t seen the success many anticipated.
It should be noted however that neither have been called killers of anything by Google itself, and both have collected a large enough following many companies could be proud of.
However, more importantly, Google has taken a very important decision with Buzz, to base it on Open Standards, even if that mend it would lack some features. This decision has been a huge push for the success of the OStatus stack (ActivityStreams, PubSubHubbub, Webfinger and Salmon)
The OStatus stack, as proposed by StatusNet, and implemented by StatusNet/Identi.ca, Cliqset and partly by Google Buzz (work is being done to implement the complete stack), allows communication between different Micro-blogs. A concrete example:
I run my own StatusNet instance, where I post my status updates. Some of my friends however use identi.ca, and post their status updates there. Now, I would like to follow their updates, but I don’t want to create another account which I’ll have to manage. Luckily, since both support OStatus, I can just go to my profile page, click “Add subscription” and enter “<their-username>@ident.ca”. Now I will automatically receive their updates in my own instance. Moreover, when I reply to their updates, they get delivered to their account on identi.ca.
Admittedly, the full adoption of OStatus in Google Buzz isn’t quite there yet, but Google is working actively with the different communities to finalize the different standards, and is committed to integrating these in Google Buzz, to close the last few gaps.
So what does this all mean for Google Me? Well, my hopes (and expectations) are that Google will continue on this path, of using open standards. Not only with respect to the communication between different networks, but one step further: also with respect to Data Portability (e.g. picking up your contact list from one service, and moving to the next service)
Just imagine what the world must have been like in the early days of the internet, before the invention of the “@” sign for email. That’s right! Initially you could only email people on your own server! If you wanted to keep in touch with someone on another server, you had to go there and register a new account. Now, does that sound familiar?
When Google started with Buzz, their philosophy was not to create “yet another micro blog”, but to create one hub in a federation of microblogs. To compete not by building another wall, but by building a better user experience.
In the last years Google has proven to be committed to this path, e.g. by dropping their proprietary AuthSub for OAuth, by adopting Portable Contacts, by using your Google account as an OpenID identity and by the Data Liberation Movement. I expect nothing less for the future.
So will “Google Me” be a “Facebook killer”? Short answer: No. Long answer: If Google Me continues on the path Google has been taking for the last few years, it might set in motion a move to a more open and federated social networking experience, which could force other social networks, including Facebook, to tear down their walls and become hubs in a federation of social networks.
May the best user-experience win, but lets stop building walls around our services to prevent users from migrating.
Recommended watching: “Bridging the islands: Building fluid social experiences across websites”
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