Social networks are continually widening their scope to cover more than our just connections and status updates. As usage expands and we search for ever simpler means of achieving our online goals, how far will the networks go to become everything we need in one place?
Perhaps, more importantly, will the regulators allow them?
Back in 2010 I asked "Are social platforms the next Microsoft?" and then last year "Are social networks a threat to the internet?" meaning that their remit would expand beyond social to encompass other areas thus threatening to usurp companies already operating in those areas.
We've already seen the first steps:
- Facebook comments and the open graph extending out to the web
- Twitter eating into its ecosystem by adopting functionality originally offered by third-parties
Despite encroaching on other products and companies, however, these actions are still intrinsically linked to social. Google combining social with the rest of its ecosystem via the social layer started to move beyond this but Google is in the unusual position of already providing non-social services but now linking them with a social aspect. Could this be seen by some as an unfair advantage?
We have already had the case of Peoplebrowsr taking Twitter to court over what it feels is unfair loss of access to the full fire-hose so what would be the reaction of companies like PayPal, for example, if social networks cut out the need for third-party payment services?
Encroachment on the normal web by social networks is already making waves but if those networks extend their remit to other areas is there going to be sufficient ill will to cause an investigation into social practices?
From interaction to transaction
Twitter recently introduced new Twitter Card types including Product which will show info about a product and link out to it on the web. Is it a stretch to imagine that the company could implement its own e-commerce system in future allowing for direct purchase via Twitter itself - perhaps in return for a small fee for each transaction?
Give Twitter your credit card details and cut out the middle man!
A number of third-party platforms already provide for the creation of "storefronts" on Facebook but what if the social network introduced a native system?
Give Facebook your credit card details and cut out the middle man!
Just as Google has created interactive posts which can include a Buy button why couldn't Twitter do the same thing? Currently, Google's interactive posts take you to external pages to complete the transaction but what if social networks decided to own the whole process?
With promoted tweets advertisers are charged on the basis of interactions rather than impressions so why not implement a system to charge per direct sale? Twitter's ad sales are said to be approaching $1 billion a year but inbuilt e-commerce could provide yet another revenue stream.
Give and take
Deep linking from the new Twitter Cards to mobile applications may be seen as the company extending an olive branch to developers by allowing them to build value but what happens when Twitter wants a piece of the resultant action?
This post builds on initial thoughts over at Google+ here.
Image cropped from a Brent Moore original