Geek.com broke the story that Google, in a never-ending quest to improve the user experience, plans to merge its disparate chat functions into one service called Babble. It’s a smart move; with at least five different platforms and varying degrees of compatibility, creating one messaging service can provide users with nearly frictionless sharing and communication.
But this move could also be part of a larger strategy. Facebook is taking aim at Google’s search share with its own Graph search engine, and Bing’s slow but steady rise in popularity is taking a small bite out of Google’s user base. These threats are relatively small, but members of Facebook’s massive user base could end up choosing to stay within its ecosystem for communication, search and more. That means Google has to find a way to mitigate the potential loss of users—and, possibly, ad revenue.
Google’s quandary, however, could be a boon to brands. A strategy that includes content tailored for a Google audience could help brands build loyal audiences within their preferred online ecosystem. By unifying its communications platforms, Google could give brands the tools they need to create meaningful and lasting relationships with their customers.
Facebook’s wayback machine
Those of us old enough to remember the days of dial-up ISPs like Compuserve, Prodigy and AOL also remember how walled off those services were. America Online’s welcome screen, with its iconic “You’ve got mail!” inbox alert, offered users a whole host of chat rooms, message boards and articles, all without having to venture too far into the scary new frontier of the World Wide Web.
The number of Internet users has exploded since the 90s, but Facebook has learned lessons from those old ISPs and put them into practice. Social utilities like Chat, Groups and Pages make it easy for both users and brands to interact with their audiences without leaving the platform. About 67 percent of online American adults use Facebook, offering the social network a potentially constant stream of revenue, particularly in mobile ads.
All Google, all the time
But Google is much more than just search: As of last year, Gmail has 425 million users, with about 235 million users actively using G+ features. Paired with its 83 percent share of search engine users, Facebook’s user stats pale in comparison. And creating one communication platform does more than give people a single website or platform to visit; it also gives brands a way to interact directly with their audiences. From brand pages and Communities to G+ Hangouts and photo sharing, Google can help brands collect customer data, craft content based on that data, and make connections with the users most likely to buy their products and services.
It’s hard to ignore Google’s multiple platform failures (Orkut, Wave and, some might argue, Google+), but it completely dominates search and web-based mail platforms, and its mobile OS is now more popular than Apple’s. That makes it hard to ignore Google’s reach. Even if Google does become a closed ecosystem similar to Facebook, its audience is still exponentially larger than Facebook’s. With Babble simplifying Google’s communication platform, users have the opportunity to connect with whomever they choose and brands will have the power to virtually reach out and touch their audiences. It’s just one more tool Google can use to keep its own audiences engaged.