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Yahoo Beats Google in the Social Network Game -- For Now

By now, it's clear that Google (GOOG) messed up with Buzz, it's attempt to integrate social media into Gmail. Google did react quickly to the privacy concerns, but that still left it's overarching approach to social media untouched: aggregate the reading. Yahoo (YHOO) did something analogous before Google did, but Yahoo's now clearly broader view, evidenced by its deal with Twitter, stretches past email to make the company a potential leader in social networking.

It's not as though integrating tweets into search engine results is a new concept. Google and Microsoft (MSFT) both structured deals along those lines last fall, and Yahoo has pulled in material from Twitter via public programming interfaces. However, information feeds are no more social networking than going to a newspaper's web site and reading stories. The key to social networks is the all important "social" aspect. Users want to provide their own material in a convenient way. That's why applications like TweetDeck, through which enable users to post to Twitter or Facebook, become popular. People who use multiple networks -- and presuming that they will be technically monogamous is short-sighted -- want an easy way to maintin all their connections. Google treated Buzz as a way to collect feeds. Yahoo is looking beyond that:

Yahoo users will also be able to view their Twitter feeds and post to the service directly from the Yahoo accounts, similar to the plans Yahoo announced to let Facebook users update their profiles from their Yahoo accounts.
What Yahoo offers is a smart defensive move that positions it as a nascent social networking hub. That does a number of things:
  • provides an incentive for users to stay at Yahoo and reduce the amount of time keeping up with things;
  • helps retain users and increase their time on Yahoo's sites;
  • potentially offers new ways to bridge various social networks;
  • crucially, keeps people looking at ads on Yahoo and generating revenue.
Although I said that Yahoo now beats Google, this is bound to be a short-lived phenomenon -- at least in how it handles social networks. I'd be greatly surprised if Google didn't learn the lesson and start integrating social networks in Google Apps, Picasa, and YouTube. Or possibly even create a social networking mega-center, with the to bring in a bigger array of networks than anyone else offers. This would be a case where increasing the number of available connections -- even if most people stick with Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace -- would offer the same marketing panache as having a search engine that indexes more pages than competitors. Yahoo must not become complacent.
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