Based on a recent comScore report it looks like Facebook’s invasion and conquest of mainland India is all but a foregone conclusion. With Zuckerberg’s brainchild outpacing the growth of Google’s Orkut by a factor of 10, the over 33 million member strong Indian social networking market appears to be slipping into the hands of Facebook. This changing tide leaves Orkut with one last stronghold high in the mountains of Brazil. Given Facebook’s obscene growth rate, is a world social networking monopoly inevitable? Does the legend of Google Me have the will to break the stranglehold and offer up a legitimate alternative? Where does Orkut stand in all this? Here are some ideas and strategic suggestions to create competition in the social networking market.

The Dilemma of a Closed Garden
A wise man once said, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” In the realm of social networking, some might suggest that if the “harbor” is organized well and used by many, then there are merits to sticking to what works; in this case Facebook. What happens if the harbor master hates red sails and decides to charge a tariff for traveling between the shores? This metaphor speaks to the potential problems of letting one organization control the entire social networking arena. We all know that both Facebook and Google are in it for the money. Ultimately, having more than one legitimate choice gives the consumer at least some decision power. With other distributed social network initiatives like Diaspora on the horizon, the future still holds hope for a less money oriented solution to your social networking needs. The more portable your social networking information is, the less control an outside organization will have over your freedom of choice.

Privacy is in its Death Throws
As a consumer, you should know that all of these companies are recording a massive amount of data about your personal interactions. While this data currently concerns mainly the online world, new developments like Facebook’s Location Service are guaranteed to change things. Imagine the day when companies will know where you are at all times, who you are spending time with and the exact time intervals for each of these activities. That day was yesterday. Ultimately, for companies in the social networking space, data is money. The more data they capture, the more money they can squeeze out of their user base. Facebook, Google and other players in the social networking space have to make strategic decisions about how they capture this data. Are the new programs opt out? Do they make the controls to toggle off certain privacy settings intentionally hard to find? You bet they do. Each of these companies has a decision to make about where they stand on the privacy spectrum. Imagine if a company’s stance on privacy actually revolved around letting the user decide. A more open privacy strategy might give users incentive to make a change.

The legend of Google Me
If you have spent any time in Silicon Valley or ventured into the blogosphere recently you may have heard the chatter; sweet rumors of a true challenger to Facebook’s stranglehold on the social networking space. What is Google Me? A better question is what does Google Me have to be in order to fulfill its promise of a new tomorrow. Ultimately Google Me has to be something that people are both familiar with and comfortable using. Let’s think of an example that fits those requirements. How about Facebook? A true Facebook clone is a scary prospect. Will most people see it as just a knock off?

Where does Orkut figure in to all of this?
With over 100 million active users, Google would be foolish to cut the cord on the Orkut user base. Ultimately, if Google Me is going to work, they will need to seed the new service. Building a user base for a social networking site requires getting massive amounts of people to sign up, establish social connections and fill out a wealth of personal information. Where could Google Me possibly get a kick start of users? How about building the service so that user info can easily, perhaps automatically, be ported over from Orkut? While they are at it, why not do the same with Gmail. Google currently has most of the core information to build a profile for hundreds of millions of users. If they can make joining the service a push button decision, then perhaps they can chip away at the networking effect that is powering the Facebook phenomenon.

In the past, Google has adopted features from Facebook and incorporated them into the Orkut Service. This cloning strategy may be the focus of the Google Me effort. If the Japanese can do it with cars, who’s to say the same strategy will not work with social networks. Ultimately, to gain insight into what works for social networking Google may have to go to the source; engineers with direct experience in social networking development. To build a true Facebook killer Google may want to fire up some hiring software and target Facebook employees. Tapping the Facebook brain trust may be a critical competitive maneuver for overtaking the social networking giant.

As Facebook continues its dominance in the social space, the honest chances of Google Me rising to prominence are slim at best. Google’s best chances of making an impact with Google Me will require building something that has a small learning curve and can incorporate assets they have already developed through sites like Orkut. Only time will tell if the social networking stronghold is unbreakable in the immediate future, but for the sake on competition, let’s wish Google the best of luck.