A much discussed blog posting this morning comes from Saul Hansell at the New York Times, who spoke to both Google and Yahoo about their plans to turn their email products into social networks, in a manner of speaking: “Inbox 2.0.” The plans discussed in the post suggest some clever and creative thinking about how both companies can leverage their existing products and integrate them with other properties. But people at both companies also seem to be in a kind of frenzy, which may turn out to be unjustified in the long run, over how to compete with Facebook.
Here’s what Hansell says about Google’s plans:
When I talked recently with Joe Kraus, who runs Google’s OpenSocial project, he said: “We believe there are opportunities with iGoogle to make it more social.” And when I pressed him about the relationship between the social aspects of iGoogle and Gmail versus Orkut or some other social network, he said, “It is much easier to extend an existing habit than to create a brand.”
We’re left to “read the tea leaves” a bit there and figure out how some of these properties might be tied in together. iGoogle has been gradually becoming more “social,” as has Google as a whole, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see profiles tied into iGoogle and iGoogle tied to mail and so on. Orkut, which has been growing, suffers from what might be called “the Froogle problem.”
Despite its clever name, many people never fully recognized that Froogle was Google Shopping. So Google eventually changed the name of Froogle to Google Product Search. Such a functional name change might be in order for Orkut too, especially as part of the larger effort that Hansell’s post suggests.
Here’s what Hansell says about Yahoo’s plans:
Yahoo is testing a method that can automatically determine the strength of your relationship to someone by how often you exchange e-mail and instant messages with him or her….
Yahoo Mail will also be extended to display other information about your friends as well. This can be a link to a profile page, and also what Yahoo calls “vitality” –- updated information much like the news feed on Facebook. There could also be simple features that are common on social networks, like displaying a list of friends whose birthdays are coming up….
There will be some sort of profile system attached to Inbox 2.0, [Garlinghouse] said. For people who use a lot of Yahoo services, this profile could be quite rich even at the beginning, as it can draw on activity on Yahoo Music, Yahoo Shopping and so on….
It seems like there is too much complexity here, leading to potential confusion. Yahoo Mail is a huge asset for the company (and so is/was MyYahoo), but there may be too much of a good thing in this vision. Of course, it’s mostly informed speculation in Hansell’s post.
There is probably a growing need for a kind of “dashboard” or “control center” where people get feeds and content, organize favorites, present their resume or profile, and communicate with each other. There’s no single entity or site that does all these things.
Personal startpages/newsreaders/widget containers include Netvibes, Pageflakes, iGoogle, and MyYahoo. Yahoo’s Delicious and MyWeb, among others, are good social bookmarking sites that help organize content for future consumption (and sharing). And sites like LinkedIn or Facebook offer profiles and personal pages.
There may well be a way for Google or Yahoo to bring these elements together in an elegant way — a kind of personal portal or uber-startpage — but if not done correctly or well, it could wreck a relatively good thing, at least in the case of Yahoo Mail.
It’s like that old joke: What’s a camel? A horse designed by committee. There’s more discussion at Techmeme.