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Google Wave could threaten Facebook, Twitter

Google collaboration tool could prove popular among social networking crowd, analysts say

September 30, 2009 02:54 PM ET

Computerworld - As one of the most influential Web companies gets closer to throwing its hat into the social networking ring, there has to be some consternation in the offices of social network pioneers like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, analysts say.

Google Inc. today released a preview of its upcoming Google Wave collaboration and communication tool to about 100,000 users and developers. The Web-based application is designed to consolidate features from e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, wikis, multimedia management and document sharing, while offering a variety of social networking features.

Analysts call Google Wave the latest, and possibly the most comprehensive, entrant into a burgeoning social networking business that is still largely made up of hot newcomers who have made strong names for themselves, but are still far from profitable.

Thus Google, with its marketing clout and hip name, may have a good shot at disrupting the likes of Facebook and Twitter, noted Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group.

"This represents a displacement threat for everybody," Enderle said. "Everybody in this space -- Twitter, Facebook and MySpace -- is nervous at the moment. If they're not nervous, then they're missing the memo. The market hasn't settled and when it's not settled, then something like Wave could come in and make headway."

Facebook and MySpace declined comment on Google Wave. Twitter couldn't be reached.

Using social network-like interfaces, the tool is designed to enable collaboration and community-building applications, Google said. In a blog post yesterday, two Google Wave developers said that they have been using the tool to set up pub crawls, and share photos and videos -- applications that sound pretty similar to how Facebook and MySpace are used.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said that Wave has the potential to be a serious challenger to Facebook, especially if Google developers get the interface right. This presents a significant business opportunity for Google, considering that Facebook this summer had increased its user base by 700% over the previous year. And Facebook announced just this month that it had grabbed its 300 millionth user.

"The real key to its success will be how easy Google can make the user interface," Olds said. "It has to be easy enough for Aunt Carmen to use, but have enough sophisticated functionality to keep the kids and tech heads happy. If Google were the first social network, it wouldn't be as important. The basic functionality would be more important. But this is an area where Google isn't first. Facebook, MySpace, and others got there first. Google Wave will have to compete with those services for mass market acceptance."

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