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Google buying Youtube?

Rumors are afoot that Google is going to buy Youtube, but this is just an excuse for me to pontificate on a discussion I recently had with a friend: can a large company (e.g. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon) successfully create a social/community service like Youtube? Google Video is a failure in comparison to Youtube, Yahoo had to buy Flickr to supplement its photo offerings, Amazon's product tagging service sucks to use, Google's Bookmarks and Yahoo's My Web 2.0 trail (Yahoo-acquired) del.icio.us, etc... NOTE: 'large company' isn't the right label here, but 'large company that stores your private data' is a bit wordy.

Many of the failings that I perceive in Google Video are attributable to a lack of understanding of community. There isn't even an easy way to find all the videos by a particular user -- lonelygirl15 would have a much harder time gaining popularity. Some of Google Video's failings were boneheaded technical decisions -- it took over two weeks for them to approve a video that I had uploaded -- but Youtube is hardly a technical or visual masterpiece.

There are several theories one could expound: smaller companies have more 'cool', which is important to community services; there is a big first mover advantage in establishing a community service; Google/Yahoo/Amazon IT infrastructure wasn't built to do open-community-style interactions for their users (note: Yahoo is a community service, but it is a closed community). This latter reason does resonate with me a bit: this is an Amazon URL for a tag: http://www.amazon.com/gp/tagging/glance/ex%20machina/ref=tagdpct/102-8509772-8364930?ie=UTF8 . This is the same tag on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/exmachina. But I don't think it's the major reason.

My own personal theory is one of digital identity management: my Google and my Yahoo identities are too personal to give away in a community service. Google/Yahoo identities are tied to e-mail, search history, calendars, and more. If you publicly reveal that identity you at least open yourself up to more spam and at worst invite identity theft of a much larger scale: determined individuals can figure out who I am from my Flickr account, but that's because I chose to tie my Flickr account to my overall 'kwc' moniker. It's related to danah boyd's mention of managing social contexts, e.g. teens don't necessarily want to hang out in the same social space as their parents (related: MySpace is drawing older visitors, study finds).

There is also a technological corollaries to this. My "home page" for Google is private-facing while my "home page" for Flickr is public facing. A company managing your private identity has to have less lax login procedures: Flickr can keep you signed in for weeks, Yahoo needs to sign you out almost immediately. There is also screen-handle assignment: I can be 'kwc' on Flickr, due to the smaller user population, but there is no way I would ever be able to get that for Yahoo.

So, what is the point of all this pontificating? To go back to the original question, I do think big companies storing your private data can successfully create new public community services, but they have to create separated sandboxes for these services. They have to allow 'alter egos', perhaps many, so that you can remain in control of your privacy. This is what they effectively do when these large companies acquire community services, but sometimes attempt ruin the whole deal, e.g. Yahoo's announcing they will merge Flickr accounts with Yahoo! accounts. Arguably, this is what Google did with Orkut, but Orkut couldn't scale to meet demand.

Google buying Youtube would be an interesting test for Google. Google didn't really muck with the Blogger community when it bought itself into that, but Blogger's development was stalled for over a year and the service became overrun with blogspam. If Google makes the right decisions with how to Google-ize Youtube without vacating its community, then it could possibly be the start of Google becoming more of a community player. Or it could pull another Blogger and watch users run to one of the many Youtube clones. The rumored $1.6B price tag is an expensive price to find out if Google has learned its lessons.

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This page contains a single entry from kwc blog posted on October 6, 2006 8:01 AM.

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