The Parallel Internets
Lou Kerner of Wedbush Securities, who covers the social Web space, is fond of referring to Facebook as the second Internet. He calls it this, of course, because so much of what one can do on the open Web one can also do on Facebook, including email, chat, search, e-commerce and dozens of other activities.
I think there are at least a couple of parallel "Internets" emerging: one, as Lou contends, controlled by Facebook, and the other by Apple. It could also be argued that the real, original Internet is increasingly controlled by Google.
The value of the original Internet is that it is largely free, fair and democratic. It's also an awful mess on many days, open to gaming, predatory behaviors and downright criminal activity. While the Facebook "Internet" has fewer of these downsides, it is by no means completely free of the plagues of the open Internet, and it certainly isn't as fair or democratic.
Apple, however, has managed to create a pretty pristine environment without the ugliness that you get with free, fair and open. That pristine state, of course, comes at a price (not free, not fair, not open). But on those days when you're dealing with spam, gamed search results or any number of indignities, the highly controlled Apple environment can seem like a true oasis.
Last week, Facebook wrapped up its F8 developers' conference, where there were big announcements of a change to the main user interface and the introduction of a number of third-party apps to the Facebook ecosystem. There was some cool stuff (check out the winner of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2011, a Facebook social app called Shaker), and there was a fair amount of controversy (hey, who cares millions are starving to death in Africa, they changed my Facebook...)
Meanwhile, Apple's iCloud is on the horizon, threatening to shake things up in the way only Apple can.
It used to be Google was the main way most of us would search for and find what we were looking for on the Web. Today, depending upon which "Internet" you're on, you can use one of any number of features, functions, or apps to drive search activity.
On my iPhone alone, I have search-like apps including Yelp, Google Maps, Alfred (a cool digital personal assistant app with Siri-like qualities), OpenTable, Fandango and IMDb, among others. I have airline apps, banking and credit card apps, and, of course, a huge range of entertainment-related apps.
All of which is to say things are getting increasingly complex for those of us looking to get found when people may be trying to find us online.
As search result pages in the free, fair and open Internet increasingly include lots of fancy stuff up top that push organic results either below the fold or off page one, and as content farms, gamers, schemers and others work to ruin the party for everyone else, one has to wonder if efforts like legitimate search engine optimization really make much of difference these days. Still, the majority of a site's traffic will likely come from Google, so we remain vigilant.
Still, with the proliferation of all these other forms of search and discovery in play, it's increasingly important to make sure that marketing teams understand where many of these apps are getting their information (by scraping a third-party source, for instance, or via an API). Once you know what the sources of information are for any given app, it's critical that you optimize those sources. Luckily, many of these apps are drawing from the same small collection of sources, so it need not be too onerous.
While there is really only one, true Internet, the fast-growing parallel universes controlled by Facebook and Apple mean we've got to be concerned with optimizing each. The good news is, there is less game-playing, spam and generalized shenanigans in these controlled environments, and they may end up being the more hospitable place to get found down the line.