Community and communications are two parts of a social whole.
The Facebook and Skype merger rumors are a perfect backdrop to relook at the Facebook community paradigm and how it will change with Skype as a partner.
To hundreds of millions of people, Facebook is the web. The first place they go in the morning and their principal source of news information. What’s remarkable is that while Facebook has defined social, you can’t really have a conversation there. Share of course; talk not much. This has been a missing link.
Today, on Facebook, we can post and comment but real conversations are not possible. Comment strings get moved to email or blog posts or a phone call or to a coffee shop for a meeting. Facebook is a check-in portal to see what’s going on. To do anything beyond sharing, you need to leave.
Facebook wants “To mesh communications and community more tightly together and add more tools to allow users to do so.” According to Kara Swisher who broke the merger story. Adding deeper communications capabilities in voice, text, and video are naturally the next step for Facebook and an evolving need for the ever growing group of people who run their lives from their profile pages.
Facebook fulfils that unique promise of a place to hang out at the intersection of our off and online lives where you share…and to many, create your life. It is the ‘homepage’ to the global and flattened mass market, the news source of reference to most, and fast becoming a merchant mall to most global brands. Google is where you go to work and look stuff up. Facebook is where you share it.
The merger would add a communications layer (Skype) to Facebook’s community network that makes sense on at least three levels:
1. Voice and text
Voice communications is a ‘gimme’ for the social graph. It’s been overdue in arriving.
Why say “I’ll call you”, jump off of Facebook…rather than make that call immediately? Having an integrated phone book built off of Facebook membership seems like a no brainer. Skype is great alone. Integrated without an extraneous Skype phonebook is considerably better.
No one likes the phone company. If we can make calls from our social homepage…we will. And since many of the Skype calls we make are international, this feature has the added benefit of accelerating international expansion to the Facebook network. And to the members, the more people on the network, the more useful it is.
Texting is an obvious missing link
Most notices from Facebook and my blog communities come through text. Texts are our rapid alert system from our networks.…”At the store.” “Meet you at the movies.” “Sign on to Facebook to chat.” Why have a one-way text pipe? On Facebook, on my phone…I would simply send text from within my profile…so would hundreds of millions more.
With Skype integrated, this issue is resolved…and of course, from a single Facebook address book. The sub 25 year-old, mini-millennium generation, would jump on this en masse as text on the phones is their principal communications jargon.
And with Skype’s partnership with Avaya (think VoIP PBS) it is possible to conceptualize a fan page as a business center with conference calling and call analytics. Powerful in its possibilities. Your fan page could become the portal into your VoIP-based, Facebook centric global BBS system.
2. Video chat and social video are the big promises that just haven’t materialized
Social video has been stumbling forward in fits and starts. I expected it sooner, but it has eluded the mass market’s momentum…so far that is.
Creative startups like Vpype, and even Facebook with video wall posts have tried to make it easy to use video as a new social form of communications. They’ve succeeded in making it easy; they’ve been unsuccessful so far in making this a mass market need…or want for that matter. All the pieces are there…cams, free usage, address books, but human behavior hasn’t made the leap.
Video Skype calling to friends and for business is already a well accepted behavior. Integrating this capability within the social graph from a branded and trusted provider like Skype could possibly push behavioral usage to fruition. Maybe we needed a communications brand to kick start this.
My sense is that if you add video Skype calling into the social ecosystem of Facebook, the dream of party-line video calling, interactive video presentations and distance learning just might take off. Social video may go from a good idea to an explosive reality…and drag along the work of start-ups who are verticalizing the video pipe for all of us, with apps from entertainment to business.
3. The Facebook social TV channel
Live conferences from Facebook corporate are streamed frequently, and free. Boring stuff but there is already the concept of TV within Facebook. It works pretty well actually on the small screen.
TV, the holy grail of home entertainment is a living room paradigm. Skype and Facebook are already built into millions of connected TVs and DVRs coming out this holiday season. Add Facebook Connect, Skype’s SDK, a connected TV broad footprint and Facebook may be the network for content consumption, including TV as a social medium. I’ve blogged on this here.
“Facebook is the equivalent for us to what TV was for marketers back in the 1960s. It’s an integral part of what we do now.” This comes from Davide Grasso, CMO from Nike. Facebook could well become the new social TV platform, where people watch and share video content in a brand new way.
A Skype and Facebook merger or partnership makes sense to me. Check out Om Malik’s piece on GigaOm for a positive view and Rick Aristotle Munarriz in The Motley Fool for an aggressive anti-merger point of view.
Regardless of the outcome of the Skype/Facebook saga, integration of community with communications will occur in the Facebook network and deepen a whole social reality that is greater than the sum of its community and communications parts.