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Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft -- All Miss the Big Picture

Last Updated Jun 29, 2009 9:35 AM EDT

You hear a lot of comparison between companies. Google will beat Microsoft, or Microsoft will devastate Google. Twitter will become the New Google, or the New Facebook, or the New Media. Yahoo will become the New Yahoo. You get the idea. But there are two things that become obvious when you think a moment. One is that all these companies are juggling for a future business landscape dominated by communications. The other is that they're all trying to fit a complex issue into their own undersized boxes.

Look at some of the tools either available today or that are currently being touted:
  • Google has introduced Wave that allows users to add others into an ongoing collaborative conversation incorporating email, real-time chat, and concurrent rich format text, photos, gadgets, and information feeds from the web.
  • Twitter offers real-time communications from one person to any number that might want to listen, extended to greater numbers using hash tags.
  • Facebook and LinkedIn allow someone to invite extended networks of people, share messages, photos, video, links, and other forms of information.
  • Blogs on any of a number of platforms allow people to write for an audience that can subscribe through a number of ways, drop in casually, or even stumble across the blog.
But as powerful and useful as some of these tools can be, they only address some of the communications needs that present themselves. A little more thought suggests a number of communication goals that people might want to achieve:
  1. Decide on whether to communicate one-to-one, one-to-several, one-to-many, one-to-very-many (full broadcast), several-to-several, or many-to-many.
  2. Choose whether communications happen synchronously or asynchronously, so all the people involved may participate as they wish on their own time, or all connect at the same time.
  3. Pick any combination of writing, audio, images, video, applications, or masses of data.
  4. Allow one party to do the communication and others to receive, limited participation for some of the audience, full participation for any of the audience, or any degree of participation and interaction for all parties.
  5. Use any combination of communication mediums, including computers, handsets, specialty devices like e-book readers, broadcast radio and television, satellite radio and television, and Internet connectivity.
The list is varied because we've had everything from letters to telegraph to telephone (including party lines) and television and radio and the web. And as communications have developed, the interplay of these different needs evolves on a number of scales. I may want to listen to someone's produced entertainment and not want to spend extra money for on-demand access. I might feel like watching a ball game with friends. It could be that I want to write something and let other people read it in print. Or I could use the paradoxically ephemeral and permanent form of online publishing. The point is that people and companies have different needs for different times, and no single tool is capable of satisfying all of them.

That is why the talk of "killer apps" or one company's offering being the be-all-and-end-all is poppycock. None of them can do everything, and to insist that Twitter can be the new media or that Wave replaces all simple email and messaging or that broadcast is dead is short-sighted. There will continue to be developments and invention. Bright people will find additional ways to incorporate features and capabilities. But to say that one tool will supplant all others and serve everyone's needs? Might as well get your degree in physics, hold your breath, and wait for a unified field theory to be proven beyond all doubt.

Image via stock.xchng user bunchkles, site standard license.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.