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July 12, 2007

Social Networking Gets a Second Look From Google & Yahoo!

By Li Evans

Orangutan_yawn So what about Social Networking?  This is one piece of the social media puzzle the big search engines are still trying to figure out.  None of the major search engines have really figured out  just what it is that makes Social Networking sites like MySpace and Facebook so popular, yet.  Yahoo has "Yahoo360" and MSN has "MSN Spaces" both of which get a resounding *yawns* when mentioned.  Google has "Orkut", but other than Brazil and Iran, Orkut barely makes anyone's radar. 

To be honest, I don't think any of the search engines have really put much effort into creating their own social networks, they are more concerned with acquiring the popular ones.  A lot of what's been created has been more just happenstance, not by any concerted effort or defined strategy.  Born more out of "lets try this" situations, you have a hotmail account, MSN Spaces is there.  You have a Yahoo email account Yahoo360 is there.  Try and find Google's co-op is a little harder, but you get the point.  There's been no mass adoption of these network because they are just "there", and their creators are more known for providing other services, not for their social network.

This all could be changing, this week came news of Yahoo!'s new effort called Mosh (check out the cool screen shots too), and Google's put forth a new effort called SocialStream.  It looks like the search engines are definitely taking a harder look at creating their own network to be adopted by the masses.

I have been reading a lot about this entire social networking spectrum this past week, the good, the bad and the ugly.  John Battelle questions Facebook's true worth (I question it too), and there was this really interesting article by the folks at Reach Student about the poor results of advertising with Facebook, both really got my gears going in my mind.  Before anyone starts their social networks, shouldn't there be a clear path of understanding who your target audience is and then a true understanding of how advertisers can capitalize from that audience?

Facebook right now faces this problem.  Facebook's target audience is college students and older high school students.  This audience is known for being banner and advertising blind, heck the majority of them run with ad blocker software on.  MchammerThey ignore ads just like us Generation X'ers ignore anything that has to do with MC Hammer, Michael Jackson and Joey Buttafuoco.  If Facebook's advertisers continue to see consistent returns of .04%, how much longer do you think they'll continue to throw money down that well?  Facebook would be wise to turn it's internal knowledge of how it appeals to its audience into a value-ad for their advertisers, instead of leaving them scratching their heads wondering why this medium isn't working for them.

Taking that in perspective, if both Yahoo & Google are taking another hard look at putting out serious challenges in the social networking space, they are going to have to really look at the market and know it inside and out.  If they understand where there is a gap of service in this space, and also understand where there's opportunities for advertisers, they could give Facebook and MySpace a run for their money.  However, if they don't, they'll just turn out to be another "yawn" in the social networking space.

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