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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Your move, Facebook

So MySpace is integrating Google Gears into its messaging storage system.

It looks like a match made in heaven for MySpace. Gone are the days when finding a message from an old flame (not that you should be looking for those) meant manually trudging through pages of messages sorted only by date. For those who didn’t feel the need to delete old conversations, that could mean digging through thousands of messages. Now, Gears will help MySpace function like a traditional e-mail service, letting people sort by user, by date or even by keyword search. More importantly, the MySpace community can also now access the application offline – a significant upgrade considering we haven’t yet reached the era of hover bikes, telepathy and truly ubiquitous Internet access. An additional benefit to MySpace appears to be an immediate performance boost for users while offloading some of the hardware requirements for that boost onto users’ local machines.

Over at Facebook, Zuckerberg surely has to pause for at least a second in the midst of all the hubbub of taking over the planet as more or less the #1 social networking site. Popular-but-kitschy MySpace has finally answered with a decent counterpunch. Will Facebook jab back with alacrity, or keep users handcuffed with an inefficient old messaging system?

Facebook’s first inclination may be to shrug and say “big deal”; after all, its massive growth speaks for itself, it’s the online leader in photo uploads with roughly 14 million daily, and its interface is arguably much easier to navigate than MySpace’s. But it shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the mail and messaging systems in social networking sites today. Sure, the wall posts, games and photo albums are the “loudest” features, but an increasing number of users rely on applications like Facebook as a primary communication tool.

I, for one, probably did 60 per cent of my online messaging via e-mail, 30 per cent via instant messaging, and 10 per cent via Facebook two years ago. Now, my instant messenger program is practically fossilized; I probably do 30 to 40 per cent of my messaging via Facebook.

If social networking apps have become crucial communication instruments, won’t users flock to the one with better archiving and search capabilities? And hasn’t MySpace taken the lead after teaming with Gears?

Still, there’s hope for Facebook. Google sells Gears for its “openness” – it’s available on most traditional web browsers and not restricted to any specific number of third-party users – so the window remains open to implement Gears.

I suggest that Facebook does so sooner rather than later, before the new-and-improved MySpace starts to gain back the respectability it had lost among power users.

Posted by Matt Larkin




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