Meebo is announcing tonight that the company is working on a huge plan to power instant messaging on second tier social networks all around the web. While MySpace and Facebook have their own IM already, nine other social networks with respectable traffic are scheduled to add Meebo IM to their services this fall.Web instant messaging platform
It's standards based, it will bring real-time "presence" to social networks unable to invest the resources to build out the feature for themselves and it sounds like a very good idea. None the less, we do have some concerns about how much social graph, user activity and advertising data Meebo is about to get its hands on.
Who's In So Far
Prelaunch partners in the initiative to date include PopSugar, Tagged, Pixo, Addicting Games, The Insider (CBS), DanceJam, Flixter, MyYearbook and SparkArt. Readers may not have heard of many of these services (unless you've been spammed by Tagged) but several of the sites do have significant user numbers.
Meebo hopes that by announcing the service now they will amass more partners before launch in Fall. The company says that though social networks have an unusually high average "time on site" between 20 and 30 minutes - Meebo numbers are dramatically higher. Chat sessions tend to stay open for between 2 and 3 hours each, the company says. Meebo says its 1 year old "Rooms" feature, group chat sessions with media sharing and embeddable in HTML web pages, now see an aggregate 28 million unique users each month. That's an insanely high number that could grow substantially when 1 to 1 communication is rolled out across partner social networks.
Partner networks will be able to choose whether to allow their users to chat with contacts on other IM networks from inside their sites. In other words, you may be able to hang out at Flixter and talk movies with friends from your AIM contact list who aren't on the site at the moment. We hope that the networks will choose to enable this much open communication and Meebo says that at least a few have already said that they will.
Who's not in? The stuffed shirts at LinkedIn won't be able to ping eachother instantly with business questions, they aren't taking part in the campaign so far. Neither is Ning, home of enough niche social networks to choke an army of horses. We'd like to see Ning go Meebo, but they are one of the few Web 2.0 startups on the market that's raised more money than Meebo already. Ning has raised $60 million, Meebo $30 million plus (VentureBeat).
There's More Money on the Table
These partner networks will share in the revenue served up by Meebo inside the chat window.
Meebo had a "come to Jesus" moment in April when it made a new hire and announced that it would be moving towards offering uniquely useful, crowd-pleasing advertising. We don't know how sophisticated this new advertising is really proving to be, but we stand behind our statement in April that cynics questioning the company's gargantuan valuation of $200m+ are wrong. Meebo is rocking the market and this new campaign is only going to make that more true.
Show us an infrastructure play that's based on open standards (Jabber/XMPP in this case) and we'll show you an innovation that we're excited about. IM is truly one of the most engaging features of the web and we expect that the users of many niche social networks will be excited about this partnership campaign.
What About User Data?
The one question we have about this otherwise fantastic sounding idea is this: is Meebo going to get its hands on too much user data? By powering IM across a list of social networks and being the choice for chat on AIM, Yahoo Messenger, etc. for millions of people - Meebo is going to have a great picture of who is friends with whom and exactly where.
The company told us that the open standard XMPP/Jabber makes this less frightening than it might be, but we're not so sure. Meebo will likely have a great deal of knowledge about all our "social graphs" as well as the user and advertiser activity on all the sites it partners with. Will users rise up and demand data portability? Will second tier social nets guard their traffic and ad data? Don't bet on it. We hope that the developer community will at least call loudly for Meebo to open up user data to it, so that innovation can spring from the company's huge store of information.
In the mean time, here comes a really great chat experience in a whole lot of new places.