Kleiner Perkins Surveys the Social Landscape

Venture capitalists weigh in on Google and Twitter

When venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers hosted a lunch for tech reporters Friday, the ostensible purpose was for the press to mingle with executives from the firm's $250 million sFund for social networking startups—but it also gave the firm's partners Bing Gordon and Chi-Hua Chien a chance to offer their thoughts on the broader social networking landscape.

One of the biggest changes in the industry since Kleiner launched the fund a year ago is the unveiling of Google's social networking service Google+. Even though Google+ is a very young product, startups are already thinking about ways to build applications for it, Gordon said. (The social network opened to game developers in August.) Chien added that Google+ has started to develop its own unique flavor. In contrast to Facebook and Twitter, it seems to be a site people go to for longer conversations.

And for Google+ skeptics, Bing said Google doesn't have to beat Facebook and Twitter outright: "It's really obvious that most people are going to be on multiple social networks."

Of course, Gordon may not be completely objective here, since Kleiner's early investment in Google was one of the firm's biggest triumphs, and partner John Doerr still serves on the company's board. In addition, Kleiner just announced that Google has joined the sFund as a "strategic partner." (Other sFund partners include Facebook and Zynga.)

Gordon also looked at another platform for social startups—Twitter, which Kleiner invested in last year. Twitter has had some growing pains as it works with outside startups, trying to encourage developers to build on its platform while also sometimes competing with them by launching its own applications. And while many of the sFund companies integrate with Twitter in some way, there haven't been any Twitter startups as successful as Zynga, which is Kleiner's big hit on the Facebook platform.

Gordon said it's important to distinguish between Twitter as a communication and distribution channel versus Twitter as an app platform. As the former, Twitter is already indispensable for many startups, Gordon said, but he added, "They haven't done the work yet to make Twitter a platform." To make that happen, Twitter would need to create more opportunities for interaction and content within Twitter itself. It also needs a developer website with a terms-of-service agreement that's "50 pages deep," Gordon said.

He added that he's confident that Twitter will get there, in part because it's easier to transform a hit social application into a bigger platform (which is what Twitter is trying to do) than it is to move in the other direction.

"I could play [Zynga-owned mobile game] Words with Friends in Twitter with a few changes," Gordon said.