Following on from F8 in September, Zuckerberg’s empowered speech may have left you wondering exactly what Zuckerberg meant when he claimed that he would “expand the notion of a more social web?”

The web has for some time been hailed as a global force empowering democracy and freedom of speech, with the social media being placed at the forefront of this battle. Yet the current rivalry between Facebook and Google could almost be interpreted as an archaic war for cyber control of web users. Indeed at a glance, Facebook’s challenge to Google seems like a challenge to the dominance of the worldwide web at large (after all, Google is the site that offers the most comprehensive analysis of the relationship between websites).

The decision to integrate apps into Facebook means that users may never have to venture outside the site. Zuckerberg himself recently stated that ‘Facebook is a collaborative tool’. Facebook currently has over 800 million active users who visit the site more than once a day, although this figure still isn’t as high as the 1.5 billion hits Google receives daily. Yet the ease with which Facebook membership is rising posits a potential sea change in the way in which we use the internet. With the integration of Spotify, Guardian, and even Twitter onto Facebook you may be wondering why you would ever need to open your internet explorer browser again.

Google’s attempts to encroach on Facebook’s territory in the last few years have not exactly epitomized success. Google+ is the fourth in a series of attempts by Google to enter the social networking sphere (remember Google Friend Connect, Google Buzz and Google Wave?) and membership on the site is believed to be little above 40 million members worldwide. In fact, Google has refused to comment on how many members are on the site inciting Forbes to publish an article entitled Eulogy for Google+.

However it remains to be seen whether the rise of Facebook will lead to the demise of the web at large. Facebook has, recently been in trouble for data sharing and the site is increasingly being viewed as ‘creepy’ by members.  Just like Google, Facebook stores a myriad of user’s personal information including private messages, the use of the like button and apps- but more interestingly also stores information about user’s friends, family and educational background. The site even detects subtle changes to a member’s lifestyle, enabling advertisers to target mothers-to-be for instance with baby products. This all sounds eerily similar to the decision by Google to remember your search information. So internet users might see the expansion of a more social web, but will this mean anything more than a transition of power between key magnates online?

Is Facebook a content or conversation source?

Back in May, Matt Locke, Richard Sambrook and I had a conversation about the future of Social Entertainment.  (In case you are thinking “My that’s a wonderfully catchy, if opaque, buzz word. But what on GoogleEarth does it mean?”; Social Entertainment is a term we coined a few years back to represent the idea that as social networks grow to parallel the influence of mainstream media channels, so too would traditional media companies need to progress their content and communications to fully embrace the social sphere).  Not rocket science, perhaps, but we’re interested in the implications of Social Entertainment, especially with regard to how entertainment companies communicate with audiences.

It’s highly probable that no one listened to the podcast back in May (I haven’t asked for the statistics lately, in case my worst fear was confirmed and we had chopped down trees, but no one was around to hear the loud thud of timber on the forest floor).  So if you didn’t, let me summarise: We talked about some meeja things and at the end Matt and I made some predictions for the next 12 months.

The erudite Mr Locke suggested that the talent rather than the media brand would continue to increase in influence and that this posed both a problem for the brand and an opportunity for talent looking to take advantage of the currency of their social profiles.  The case of @ITVLauraK (nee @BBCLauraK) perfectly illustrates this issue.  Both Tom Callow at TheWall and Jemima Kiss at the Guardian sum up the ramifications better than I could.  Congratulations Matt.  You were right.

Back in May, I felt the interesting shift would be the inverse of our original Social Entertainment theory.  I.e. Social Entertainment originally concentrated on how traditional entertainment companies could leverage social channels to engage audiences.  I predicted (again, perhaps not radically) that Social brands would expand to become fully fledged media channels and businesses.  This was based on increasingly professional content finding its way onto YouTube – but I thought that Facebook, Twitter and the like would increasingly become media channels – producing and distributing content, not just hosting conversations around it.

Interestingly, our annual research shows a conflict in consumer perception, here.  As this graph shows, consumers now think of social networks as a form of entertainment.

However, when asked who are the top-of-mind entertainment companies, consumers do not name new social or internet brands.  No Facebook, no YouTube, no Spotify.  Only the old dogs are named (I can’t actually show you the brands, but we do have this info should it be of interest.  Let me know if so).

And so here we are at the 22nd September 2011 and the f8 conference.  Much has already been written about the social updates (I’d recommend the Mashable picture gallery, if you’re looking for a quick summary of what it’s all about).  But I’m most interested to hear about how content companies and entertainment channels are going to be integrated in Facebook. Is this the coming of age for Social Entertainment?  True my prediction, unlike Matt’s, has yet to come to full fruition.  But with the f8 announcement, we may well be one step closer. The integration, assuming the often vitriolic users embrace it, will mean that Facebook becomes a powerful, if not the de facto, promotional channel for content owners and publishers.  This presents an opportunity but also a challenge for entertainment brands.  Content has always driven conversations. But some content is more naturally geared to social conversations and ‘lean forward’ programming than others.  For all entertainment brands, programs and channels, not applying Social Entertainment is, from today, arguably not an option.  It’s a simple dilemma; innovate and  collaborate, or risk not being talked about at all.

In the social media bubbles which we all now populate, the quest to reach an online idyll of collaboration and sharing has long been alluded to. The empowerment the internet has provided has made the recommendations of friends and those in our networks a very strong currency. Yet there is a gap between how well this can actually be integrated beyond certain silos, but a gap which looks to have been closed somewhat by announcements this week from Facebook and Spotify.

Announced at the company’s f8 conference, the Open Graph from Facebook lets users ‘like’ something outside of the Facebook platform. This is then shared with a URL on their profile, whilst visitors to whichever website has taken your fancy will also flag which of their friends have liked certain content or any comments that have been left.

This is big news for brands in terms of cross promotion as it provides a simple way of harnessing the golden egg that is word of mouth marketing. Whilst any good company  is already on top of this, these changes will also expose any brands who aren’t on top of their social media profile. Facebook now has the capability to implement user recommendations and flag advocates in your network automatically rather than relying on users to proactively share, something which adds huge value to consumers in terms of integration and collaboration.

Spotify is looking to do the same with music with the unveiling of its upgraded services this week. The changes look for the first time to make music genuinely viral. Whilst the original service may have already changed the way we listen to music, it is now looking to push iTunes out of the way by doing everything it does and more by synching with Facebook to pull in your friends playlists and then allowing you all to swap, recommend, vilify…..

The video above explains it better than I will but all in all it strikes me as a very strong reason to make the move to the Premium version of the service and, like the Facebook development, takes out one of the processes between your friends recommendations and the content you are consuming.

No doubt this trend of simplifying the journey and process between our ‘networks’ and our ‘content’ is one which will continue with rapid pace -  there are the expected rumours that Apple is due to bringing out its own offering on the music sharing side of things, whilst as ever, it is only a matter of time before Google tries to assure us that it owns the internet, not Facebook.

@AJGriffiths

"So don't become some background noise"

Spotify: a PR success, a service the world has grown to love and a potential game-changer for the music industry – but also a service which most of us have decided not to pay for. Instead, the majority of revenue remains reliant on advertising, users largely accepting an advert being played every half an hour as a small price to pay for having legal access to a myriad of music.

Yet over the weekend it emerged quite how insignifigant a money spinner this currently is for even the most popular artists. Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ is one of the most popular tracks on Spotify, being played over a million times, yet a report claims that she has earned only $167 (about £100) from this. In view of the fact that many of the big music labels are given equity in Spotify in return for their artist’s material, this could understandbly lead to some anger – Swedish artist Magnus Uggla being a case in point.

Whether it is really relevant to measure the success of Spotify in this way remains to be seen as it is still a service in it’s infancy. Much like Twitter, it is phenomenally successful in terms of usability but is still finding its feet in terms of making money. As it continues to attract users it’s appeal to advertisers will grow and so to will the financial returns. How this filters down to the individual artist is then probably more of an issue with the labels than with Spotify.

If at this stage you instead view Spotify as a brand building tool to drive fans to the places which do make an artist money, it all becomes a bit more acceptable. After listening to a track on Spotify, many will pay to download the album, go to a gig or watch the video on YouTube – the latter being highlighted by Lady Gaga herself as one of the most lucrative touchpoints. The video for her latest single ‘Bad Romance‘ is a case study in product placement. The incredibly slick electro pop production includes products from Phillipe Stark, Nemiroff, HP, Nintendo and Burberry among others. Whilst there is always a danger that product placement in a video will translate to it becoming a glorified advert, each product has a logical role and is subtle enough to ensure credibility remains. For Lady Gaga (or her management) this means a big wad of a cash. By inviting the brands into her video It also means she can capitalise on her value as a brand endorsement whilst still playing by her rules. For the brands in question it means an instant association with a cool, headline grabbing personality. It also brings (at the time of writing) almost 17 million views and the knowledge that this video and brand exposure will stay online indefinitely. A win win situation.

@AJGriffiths

DISCLAIMER: HP is an Edelman Tech client.  @LukeMackay also has a Burberry coat, though no one pays him to wear it.   More’s the pity.