Google dominated the business and technology press yesterday after it revealed the existence of Wave, a web-based application built upon email that enables users to share notes, pictures, blogs, videos and other bits of dynamic content in real-time. If successful, Wave would make Google’s core products and the web in general inherently more social, which begs the question: What does that mean for Facebook?
Overall, it might be too early to tell, but Facebook should keep an eye on where the technology is headed for a few reasons.
One is the design similarities. As an application, Wave embraces the “stream” design that Facebook has already implemented for its 200 million users. Apps focused on streams of shared content are based on the idea that information should flow to you. The Facebook News Feed and home page have been restructured to work in this format, representing a departure from past iterations of the site’s design that relied more heavily on users visiting their friends’ profiles. Under Facebook’s stream design, the content your friends share on Facebook flows to your fingertips.
Wave will do this, too. But it won’t just be your Facebook friends — it can be everyone in your address book, making it potentially very powerful.
But since Wave won’t be available until later this year, Facebook will enjoy even more time to have their users adjust to this way of consuming content on its platform. One of Facebook’s most powerful assets is that users have already uploaded years of pictures, notes and videos. This trove of content has made Facebook not only their primary communications mechanism, but their digital scrapbook as well. It’s unlikely that, overnight, they would move to their Gmail (or Wave) account to control all that information.
But Facebook shouldn’t dismiss Wave as hype, either. It appears to have immediate upsides for both developers and consumers. For developers, Wave is very open. They can add functionality to it, integrating it with other websites and applications. For consumers, Wave seems to marry social features (like an event invitation) with the robust messaging capabilities that you’d see in Gmail or instant messaging clients.
It also doesn’t require that users be loyal to one particular web tool or service for their content creation; they could use many of them. This, of course, could make Facebook look more “closed off,” since many of Facebook’s core applications (i.e. photos, notes, videos) are proprietary.
Rather than be adversarial, Facebook might examine how its site could work alongside Wave rather than compete with it. To date, Facebook’s large user-base remains loyal. They might conclude that Facebook and Google serve different purposes in their daily Web diets, as they currently do today.