At the Google I/O 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61gRrXW4oTc a new old service was announced: Google Photo. What Google has presented was nothing completely new, it is more a service which is already out under the brandname Instagram or Facebook. The user has a smartphone with a 4k camera, press the button and the photo will be uploaded to the cloud. This function is working at the Facebook universe from the beginning. But, according to the numbers, Google photo is enormous successful. Perhaps because it is so deep integrated in the android device, that it’s easier to use than any other application. But, if Google Photo is technically working and the users love the service, what is the purpose of Facebook? Facebook without the ability to uploading photos makes no sense, what remains is only a website with a profil, in which somebody can mark the checkbox if he is married or not. If Google photo is successful, that’s the end of Facebook. Any other killer features are not available on the website. And if the customer decides for any reason, that google photo is more advanced than Instagram and Facebook, that the game about the social network is over.
Today, Facebook is a company with a long tradition. Most marketing companies and newspapers are focussed entirely on the Zuckerberg website. But, Google Plus is more than only a ghosttown. For example, the profil page of the ny times https://plus.google.com/+nytimes has around 4 million followers. Every article has around 10 comments. In comparison to Facebook, the user engagement is lower, but it seems, that Google+ is the next alternative. The Wall street journal generates a bit more traffic, https://plus.google.com/+wsj with over 6M followers. Under every article around 20-30 comments are posted. Most of them spam, one sentence postings or foreign language, but it is traffic, it is a discussion.
Somebody may argue, that Facebook is so successful, that they can’t be beaten. But, in comparison to Google, Facebook is 4 times smaller, and in the internet age the customer can faster switch to another service provider, than Zuckerberg’s sportscar can drive. The main problem goes deeper. Google owns the internet. With their search engine, they have to most powerful tool for ranking all newsfeeds and private profil pages. In contrast, Facebook works as a blackbox, their searchengine and image-tagging algorithm works only with the facebook content. In contrast, Google has additional resources like Gmail and Youtube for connecting the information.
But why I’m arguing pro Google? The game is over, Facebook has lost the war. It is a bit sad, because Facebook was a really good grassroot-movement.
Around 2 billion people are using Facebook, but nobody of them can explain what a Social network is. Even journalists can’t do, because the term isn’t clearly defined. If we observe the traffic to and from the Facebook website it is easy to explain what Facebook is. It is mostly used for uploading photos and sending the URL to the content to friends. Additional Facebook consists of groups, which is equal to a wider audience. The interesting aspect about this definition is, that this business model can be easily cloned. The best example is “Google Photo”. How does the service work? Very simple. At first, the user uploads photos from his smartphone to the cloud-storage. That means he transfers the 1 MB .jpeg file over the UMTS connection to a remote Google storage server. With a webbased gui which works account based, the user can share in the next step the photos. That means, he sends the URL link to friends, for example his sister, brother or parents. They can see the photos, but the public has no access.
If we compare this pipeline with the Facebook workflow, it is identically. So google photo is a social network too. It consists of two things:
1. uploading photo to a storage server
2. sending URLs of these photos to friends
The good news is, that the business model of Google can be copied too. The “Baidu Xiangce” is the working example, which is a photo sharing service dedicated for the chinese market. https://technode.com/2012/05/15/baidu-to-launch-cloud-powered-photo-sharing-service-baidu-xiangce/ This can be called a social network too. Because it consists of the same elements. Amateur photos are uploaded with smartphones to the internet, and the link to the file are shared with friends but not with the complete world. All these services can be called a grassroot-movement, because in contrast to “Wikipedia commons” (which is also an image hoster) the service is used by millions of people.
Somebody may argue that images on the internet are nothing new. The first photo on a website was available since 1993. So what is the innovation? The new thing is the number of photos and the people who are able to create such content. Usually photos are created by few peoples and consumed by many. Wikipedia is good example. Around 100 people worldwide are feeding the “Wikipedia commons” section with content, and this is delivered with Wikipedia to billion of people. Social network based photosharing works technical with the same principle. Normal jpeg-compressed files are used, and standard internet connections, but this time, the number of uploaded photos is higher, and it is done by millions. Getting reliable numbers is difficult, but according to estimations, 2 billions people worldwide are uploading every day around 2 billion photos to the internet. No, it’s not a joke, we see massive engagement in user-created content.
The first impression is maybe, that Google wants to sell a new product to the customer topdown, but the customer do not want the service. In reality it is the other way around. The customer has decided to buy smartphones with flatrate internet connection. The customer walks around and press the photo button, and now, the customer wants to upload the content somewhere. He do not want to delete his best moments in life, but he want it to share it with friends. The announcement of Google photo in 2015 wasn’t a product presentation, it was more a reaction of Google to an ongoing development. That means, Google had no choice. It isn’t able to resist the grassroot movement form the customer. That means, there are million of people out there, and they are angry. They have photos on there smartphones, and they want to push them to the cloud. And if Google don’t fulfil the wish, the mass will escalating.
What is the problem? The problem is, that the customer has spend around 500 US$ for the smartphone, around 40 US$ for the UMTS flatrate per month, and for this price he wants, that the technology works. But which commercial service is available for photo sharing? Right, this is the bottleneck. Today, we have Google, Facebook, Flickr and Instagram. The details are not important for the customer, what he wants is to upload tons of photos. And he do not want pay extra money, he wants the service for free, because he spend enough money for his smartphone and the internet connection.
A social network is the result of a grassroot movement which uploads photos and share the link with friends. It can’t be build as a website, it is more the effect what happens if million of people are uploading their content. Here is a presentation of the sharing capabilities of Google photo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSXkXGbaxf4 The service consists of two parts. At first, many hundreds photos are on a smartphone, which means that the user is pressing the shot button often. And second, the photos are shared with friends. That means, they are not used for publishing it in the voque magazine or other formal media. Google calls the service Google photo, but the Facebook users are doing something similar. I would call the service grassroot photo sharing, which can be part of a social network.
If we go back in history, long before Google the Facebook network also implemented such a feature. Like the google announcement it was grassroot driven, that means, the users asked Facebook to implement such service. Until now, the sharing of photos is the primary business model why Facebook is so successful. In reality, the Facebook apps on iphone and Android devices are used for this reason only. And this explain, why recently Facebook had problems with competitors like Instagram and Snapchat. Because what the people really wants is not Facebook they want photosharing with friends.