A Different Take on “How Portals Will Win the Social Networking Wars”

I read this post by Steve Rubel several times and I still don’t quite get the logic as to why portals will win in the social networking war.
Google and Yahoo (in particular) have a lot of the components mentioned in these posts (IM, email, address books, etc) and it hasn’t translated into success in the social networking space. One thing worth keeping in mind is that right now all of the social networking spaces need to leverage existing repositories of information (email streams, IM, address books, etc) to bootstrap their way into having a sense for my social network. But once it’s been captured, there’s a very real chance that I, as a user, will choose a new place to keep up-to-date. So if users feel like it’s more important to keep their information up to date on Facebook than in Gmail or IM, those services will lose context about my relationships even though they continue to have a rich store of my information. In a dynamic world, it’s not just about storing the information – it’s also about staying current about this information as it grows and changes.

For many users, social networks are becoming the new home pages. This is just a simple assertion that I’ve made before in previous posts. As social networks become the places where users go to start their days and consume information, social networks will have a lot more power. Not convinced? If Facebook were to auction off the right to provide embedded search in their service, I know there would be a very attractive bidding war to win that placement.

The more assets you have, the less likely it is that your users are making use of all of them. Finally, the argument I always hear is that “company X has all of these great assets – IM, address book, etc. If they could just integrate them all, it would be a killer application.” But think about it. When Google just had search, anyone who used Google search was consuming 100% of the services offered. Add Gmail and you lose some folks. Ditto on Gtalk. Same is true of Google News. You get the point – the more services a portal offers, the smaller the share of users who actually consume all of the apps. If that’s the case, the value of having a super-integrated offering from Yahoo or Google is not that high. If you look at all of the things under the “More” tab on Google or all of Yahoo’s services, how many of them do you use? More importantly, how many of them do you not use because you have found something else that better meets your needs?

At the end of the day, I think Steve is right – portals will win the social networking wars. But this will happen because the winning social networks will look a lot like portals today.