Ideas on how Facebook could keep the lead in social networking

According to the comparison between Facebook and Google Plus in my previous post, Google Plus has a very innovative product, which I believe is slightly better, but I guess personal tastes matter a lot. What would I do if I was Facebook to continue being the largest social network?

Besides improving the “List of Friends” (making it more intuitive and allowing users to send messages to all friends in a list), I believe Facebook should continue making it easier and more real-life-like to communicate with friends over the Internet by coming up with innovative products. I can think of two ways to put this into practice:

  • Improving over Google Hangouts
  • Allowing users to randomly meet their friends on websites, just like they might randomly meet them at the grocery store
  • More integration

Allowing users to randomly meet their friends on websites

Let’s start with the second point. In real life, it happens very frequently to go to a grocery store or to a restaurant and to randomly meet a friend. Few months ago, at a restaurant in the outskirts of Paris, I met a friend of mine from the Netherlands! How crazy that we met there! If, instead of going to that restaurant, each of us had ordered food from pizzahut.com, we wouldn’t have had the nice conversation we had. My point is: why not have the same random meet-up at pizzahut.com? Facebook could develop a browser plugin that, when a user visits a website, displays a notification to let the user know that one (or more) of her/his Facebook friends is visiting the same website. I tried to sketch such plugin (I lowered my monitor resolution to keep images manageable). When the user is just browsing the website, the plugin should be very small and take very little space (or it could even be invisible):

When a user clicks on the plugin (or when a new friend connects to the website), a notification could be displayed in the upper left corner or also in the lower left corner (same as Thunderbird’s mail notifications):

(for the record: the name displayed are the owners of Tech Crunch page). In the notification, there are also three people listed as “others” (people who are not already friends). What is that for? Here’s an example: several years ago, a friend of mine went to an electronics shop to buy a camera. He met a girl who was also looking for a camera. They had a really nice conversation and exchanged phone numbers. Now, their two children must be the most photographed babies in the World, given how much both parents are passionate about photography. These days, an increasing share of retail is going online. If those two had bought their cameras from Amazon, they would have never met!

The plugin could also help in this direction. If a user so wishes, he could also be notified the presence of other Facebook users who are not her/his friends (yet), but are willing to talk to non-friends and share similar demographics, interests, etc… This could be a major improvement in online dating. A matching-algorithm could be used to prioritize people on websites where there are many people browsing at the same time, but at the same time the meeting would have the spontaneity of a random meet up at a location both people like (virtual, but a website is still a location)!

Improving over Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is a fairly great tool. While it’s hard to find imperfections in it, let’s again take the angle of “as close to real-life as possible”. Then, the image change is not very natural. Besides, in a real-life conversation, you do not always look at the one who is talking the loudest among your friends. Sometimes you just watch a silent one to see their reactions. On top of that, the thumbnails + large stream in the middle looks very “technological”. When you have a beer with your friends, you see your friends all around you and, if you’re in a pub, you see people at the other tables, you partially hear their conversations and you hear the music on the background. This background, while sometimes annoying, is what people want when they have a beer at a pub. Is it possible to reproduce this on the Internet? I sketched (VERY roughly) what it could look like:

Instead of “starting a hangout” on Google Plus, you could invite your Facebook friends to go to the pub. You would see them in large size close to you, at the same table, and you would hear them loud and clear. In the background, at lower volume, you would hear music and the conversations going on at other tables. The people at other tables would be other real-life people, having similar conversations with their Facebook friends. Just like a real pub, you could potentially start a conversation with them as well. Definitely not as effective as Google Hangouts, but potentially more natural and fun.

The implementation would require a Facebook app that includes a 3d engine, similar to the one used in video-games, to allow users to see the pub from different perspectives and maybe even walk around in it (the picture above is a World of Warcraft tavern, with photos taken from the Google search results for “webcam streams” or similar strings). True that in a real pub you would also see people’s backs if they are not facing you, but I guess that would be impossible to implement.

Once the “virtual pub” application is up and running, it could be expanded into a platform, open to third parties. People could open their own bars and lounges on the Facebook platform. There would be a virtual Supper Club, a virtual Hard Rock Cafe, etc…

Both things, in particular the first, also apply to Google (actually Google would have an advantage, given that they already develop a browser, that could integrate the random-meet-up plugin), but I mentioned them for Facebook because Google just came up with a new product and now they’re probably focusing on pushing the adoption, while Facebook is probably thinking “what shall we do to make sure we stay ahead?”

More integration

Facebook has the potential to offer its users more of the services that Google is also offering. For example, they could transform facebook messages into a full-fledged email (with message subjects, an IMAP server, etc…) and they could better advertise the “social search” capabilities of the little white text box on top of the Facebook home-page. Microsoft is investing a lot in social search and Facebook (1.3% owned by Microsoft) could build on it. For example, whenever I log-in from an IP that reveals that I’m in a different city, Facebook could advertise that I could search for restaurants in that city and find some that my Facebook friends commented positively about in the past.

In my next post, more details about what I would do if I was Google. In the meantime, any comment is very welcome!

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2 Comments on “Ideas on how Facebook could keep the lead in social networking”

  1. Great ideas! I love the idea of interacting with your Facebook friends via other websites. Do you think any privacy issues would arise from this? Especially with the ability of non-friend users being able to find you through third party websites

  2. Hi Ludlow Group! Thanks for the comment, glad you liked it!

    Privacy issues: I believe there is just the same privacy issue as going to a grocery store and meeting people you don’t know 🙂

    Jokes aside, between non-friends it should be totally impossible to chat with the other person without permission and without explicit confirmation that the other person is willing to meet strangers. There should be a checkbox somewhere in the settings asking whether you want to:

    1) Have the plugin completely switched off
    2) Only be visible to friends
    3) Be visible to everyone

    Thanks again for your comment!


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