Killing The Killer Conspiracies

Cue the movie trailer voice: You thought it was just a social network. Little did you know it would go on a murderous rampage, killing everything in sight. You can run, but you can't hide because Facebook's coming after your friends -- and then it's coming after you.

That's the kind of image that comes from a number of news headlines over the past week. MediaPost had its share of morbid entries. On Aug. 12, its Around the Net in Online Marketing newsletter led with the headline, borrowing TechCrunch's phrasing, "Google 'Knol' No Wiki Killer." TechCrunch reads like a first-person shooter game, with other references last week to Microsoft Zune as an iPod Killer, Apple developing a FriendFeed killer, and two references to Facebook "Lite" as a Twitterkiller. When Mashable covered "Lite," it mentioned a "direct assault on Twitter." That's a little less gory, ratcheting down the mayhem from "Summer of Sam" to "Law & Order."

My colleague Cathy Taylor continued coverage of the bloodshed, referring to Twitter getting "thrown under a bus" in her most recent piece. It sounded like the movie "Speed," where Keanu Reeves wound up under a bus, though that was more of his own volition. She reviewed some of the carnage in detail, though I'll give my own highlights here:

  • Facebook acquired FriendFeed. Body count: Twitter (and arguably FriendFeed).

  • Facebook allowed anyone to search all public posts. Body count: Twitter, Google, and Bing (and maybe FriendFeed).

  • Google demoed its new search upgrade, dubbed "Caffeine" that more rapidly and prominently indexes social media content. Body count: Facebook, Twitter, Bing, and some real-time search engines like OneRiot.

  • Facebook "Lite" launched for people with slow connections, but its simplicity seemed to resemble microblogging. Body count: Twitter and MySpace, even though MySpace launched its own simplified version in April.

  • Facebook banned sponsored status updates. Body count: anyone that would attempt to make a business model out of this (yay!).

    Why must something new always kill what exists? Can't the new Facebook search be an asset for the social network without heralding the death of Twitter? A trip to the grocery store is a helpful reminder that new products don't inherentlykill off the old ones. Dreyer's wasn't killed by Haagen-Dazs, which wasn't killed by Ben & Jerry's, which wasn't killed by Weight Watchers. I can't find a SINGLE result in Google that matches the exact expression "Haagen-Dazs killer." But "Facebook killer" has 372,000 (and another 2,000 in Google's "Caffeine").

    Much of the problem comes from the linear thinking of technology pundits and journalists. Here's how it works: if Google debuts "Caffeine" at noon and Facebook widely rolls out its new search functionality at 3 p.m., then Facebook's move is seen as a response to that. If it happened in the reverse order, Google would be seen as responding to Facebook. And if over the course of those three hours Twitter was suffering outages, both would be seen as a way to cripple Twitter right in its moment of weakness.

    Really, Facebook didn't spend $50 million on FriendFeed the way someone spends $50 on pants. And someone at Google didn't just say they had to overhaul their search engine, the biggest and most consistent revenue source in the entire Internet economy, and then launch a new trial version that day. Silicon Valley would not be such a hotbed of innovation if everything that happened was in response to what's posted on TechCrunch.

    The "killer" cliché has been tortured so much that it deserves to be put out to pasture. Yes, it's another act of violence, but it's a killing to end all killers to come. Rest in peace.

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