Is Samsung building its own Facebook killer social network? That’s the rumor circulating on the InterWebs – or at least it was, until Samsung shot it down early this morning.
It started with a Korea Times article published two days ago about a Samsung product called “Family Story” that was allegedly referred to within Samsung as “Samsung Facebook.” Family Story is a way for users of Samsung products to share photos and other content between their Samsung phones, cameras, Blu Ray players, Smart TVs, and Smart refrigerators (yes, really).
That Korea Times story – or rather, its English language translation – found its way onto the Boy Genius Report, a rumor blog not known for its assiduous fact checking. Fox News picked up the BGR story from there, and the Internet rumor mill was off to the races.
My guess is that something got lost in the translation between the Korean language version of that KT story and the English one.
I had the pleasure of touring Samsung’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities as a guest of the company a few years ago. It was fascinating insight into both the culture of South Korea and of the company itself, which are closely intertwined. And I learned a few things that would make me instantly suspicious of a story like this one:
1. Samsung makes everything.
We only see some of the products they build over here, but in South Korea they are a vital part of virtually every industry, as well as accounting for nearly one quarter of all Korean exports.
I’ve never seen a single company play such a huge role in a country’s economy. It would be as if GM or Exxon accounted for a quarter of our gross domestic product. I felt like I wasn’t visiting the Republic of South Korea, I was visiting the Republic of Samsung.
True, Samsung also likes to design their own software and services – like Family Story. But what they don’t do is compete head on with other makers of software or services. (That sounds like something Sony would do, and do badly.)
Samsung’s in the manufacturing biz. They build software and services to complement their devices and make them more useful. Period.
2. Samsung works with everyone.
Well, everyone except their fierce Korean rival, LG Electronics. They make tons of Android phones for every carrier, they make Windows phones, they make phones running their own mobile OS, and despite the patent litigation currently raging between them and Apple, they make key components of every iPhone and iPad.
I would not be at all surprised to find out that Samsung was building a version of the “Facebook phone” that’s been kicking around the Webbernet rumor mill for the last three years. That’s another reason why Samsung wouldn’t want to compete directly with Facebook – they would rather have FB’s hardware business.
3. Samsung is intensely secretive.
Samsung, and the South Koreans in general, take security and privacy extremely seriously. On my visit we were not allowed to take any photos that included any part of any Samsung building, lest we turn out to be industrial spies. I was forbidden to take a photo inside the Samsung Museum of a TV+Microwave device they invented in 1970. They make Apple look like Chatty Kathys.
Samsung employees are forbidden to even name their competitors in conversation. The names of rival companies are blacked out in the Powerpoint slides they present to reporters. I met with the VP in charge of their printer division, who had the temerity of mentioning the two initials for worldwide leader in printer manufacturing in casual conversation. He was, I was informed later, disciplined for that infraction.
So the thought that some Samsung executives were casually chatting about an upcoming Facebook rival with a KT reporter is frankly laughable. It’s much more likely they were chatting about the already announced Family Story product, which may well be called “Samsung Facebook” internally. That’s not at all the same as building their own social network.
4. Samsung isn’t stupid.
You don’t get to be a $220 billion giant or dominate so many industries – TVs, home appliances, phones, cameras, printers -- by doing stupid things. Launching a brand new social network to compete head on with Facebook’s 900-million subscribers would be unbelievably dense.
Yes, Google felt compelled to launch G+, but then it’s competing directly with Facebook for advertising dollars – it had to play in the social recommendations space or get left behind. Microsoft felt compelled to develop So.cl for the same reason.
Samsung isn’t in the online advertising industry. There is no point in it trying to compete there. And anyone who knows anything about the company will tell you that. Unless of course you’re only interested in stirring up juicy rumors to generate traffic.
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