Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus are about to start changing really, REALLY fast

When someone asks me how to compare these three networks, I always say we’ll know soon…but not yet. Each has given some indication that they have a lot of changes planned for the near future. But also, each is watching the other for ideas—and for things to protect themselves from. Here are a couple of quick points about each:

Google Plus

Google Plus is hard to ignore, because everyone who cares about making a good showing in Google’s search results is going to need to be on G+. It’s the closest thing from a big player to a real combination of a blog and a social network yet, and oh yeah, Google owns an enormous network of blogs. It will be interesting to see how thatplays out.

  1. G+ wants to get social right. They’re taking a very top-down view of what that means: They want to become the hub of most of what you do on the internet (when you’re not on Facebook or Twitter).
  2. They’ve indicated they’re going to make rapid changes both in response to user experience and internal feedback and ideas. They’re going to eventually have the widest social feature set of these three networks.

Twitter

Twitter may overcome two big problems before the end of 2011:

  1. It breaks things a lot and still fails to show all tweets.
  2. It never knew what it was before. It’s purpose has been invented by users, who have dragged Twitter along with what they do.

Twitter is acting like internally, it finally knows what it wants to be, and is chomping at the bit to introduce a bunch of new features to prove it.

Facebook

Facebook came right out after introducing video chat and said it was the first of a bunch of feature they had ready to go. Facebook knew of Google’s plan before anyone else, and have been preparing for it.

  1. Facebook watches its user extraordinarily closely. Even though they’ve lost users in the U.S., don’t count them out. They have plans to bring less active users back.
  2. They are also positioning themselves to be the hub of most of what you do on the internet.

Predictions

First off, whichever network fails to make good changes is very likely to lose ground to whichever network does the best job making changes. The reasons for use and popularity of each of these networks could be very, very different even as soon as a year from now.

Mobile and News Reading

The thing each is working the hardest on is mobile, and so this is the space where most of the immediate innovations will be announced for.  Flipboard, former iPad App of the Year and one of TIME’s top 50 innovations of 2010 was a wakeup call for all networks. Expect the innovation in reading shared links started by Flipboard to affect all networks. But first, expect each network to innovate around their key app presence. They want the app you use for their network to be something you really, really want to use.

Shopping and Entertainment

The big thing that everyone does on the internet that none of these networks do much about—yet—is buying stuff. Look for partnerships and deep integrations with some of:

  1. Shopping sites (Amazon.com, iTunes, music networks, Wal-Mart, etc.)
  2. Payment processors (PayPal, Google Payments, Square, and the new crop of services coming from credit card companies).
  3. Selling hubs and couponers (Groupon, LivingSocial, etc) and possibly even MySpace, for it’s strength in music and entertainment.
  4. Big producers of content, such as Hollywood, TV networks, YouTube and other online producers.

They will also continue try to home-brew their own systems. Figure on at least two interesting announcements in time for the 2011 shopping season.

Business and advertising

Business now believes they can’t ignore social sites, and so social sites still have a huge opportunity in making it work better for them. Businesses are the users with money to spend, often on advertising, and so all sites will bec0me much, much more business friendly in 2011/2012. Look for turnkey, one-stop-solutions now provided by outside vendors to start coming in-house and being offered by the networks themselves. In particular, all networks are still lagging in adding innovative and desirable advertising options, so look for a lot of changes here.

User Satisfaction

Facebook ranks last in user satisfaction for the second year in a row, Twitter was not rated (because too few users are on Twitter.com) but would have fared horribly, and Google Plus has a few features that are already driving users crazy (posts with many comments taking over the screen, for example). Look for all networks to try to make mobile the destination for most users, and make users happy there, while still improving greatly on the web.

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