I just came across the news that Google and Nike conjointly and quietly launched a social networking site for soccer-fanatics last week (read the news). The platform called Joga.com is a free, invitation-only website where members can create their own websites, add photos, clips and videos, as well as access Nike content related to its sponsored stars (Have you seen Ronaldo's Nike-advert lately or have you heard about US wonder kid-kicker Freddy Adu?). The concept of the site is very similar to the highly successful and much discussed mySpace.com (which is currently adding 250'000 people per day!!!). However, contrary to mySpace it targets only one specific group: soccer fans (well, that's quite a large group...).
This tactical move of Google and Nike is particularly interesting in light of the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2006 that is taking place in Germany this June. Neither Google nor Nike is an official sponsor of the World Cup and therefore neither of them can use the World Cup in their advertising or communications. Legally they are not even allowed to hint towards the World Cup, except, of course, by showing their sponsered stars in advertising. The official sponsors for the Cup are the tandem Yahoo! and Adidas, which FIFA tries to protect at any price since they pay huge sums for the exlusive sponsorship.
However, since it will be Joga.com users that will create and post content on the Google/Nike backed social networking site it is highly probable that intensive discussions among fans will evolve around the FIFA World Cup. It seems unlikely that FIFA or Yahoo!/Adidas can prevent this from happening. Legal actions such as shutting down Joga.com would probably be even more unpopular than the music major's fight agains illegal online file-sharing platforms. Unpopular because online discussions and fan websites on Joga.com do not break any laws unlike sharing copyright protected music files.
From a business design perspective Joga.com makes a lot of sense. Nike creates a cheap and permanent fan-connection to the World Cup 2006 without bearing the costs of an official sponsorship. Similarly, Google gets a potentially huge online community to sign-up to its joint venture with Nike while not paying Yahoo!'s hefty price for becoming official sponsorship.
But this clash between Google/Nike and Yahoo!/Adidas is more that just one between two business ecosystems. It could be stylized as a clash between Web2.0 (the second generation Internet) and Web1.0 (1st generation Internet). The former, new generation of web stunts, is based on participation. Joga.com lets users create the content. It is potentially chaotic, but will be right from the grassroots, right to the point, and will address the soccer community's present concerns, hopes and hot topics. The latter, old generation of web stunts, is based on an impressive website with tuns of editorial content, with a very nice face, but will risk being irrelevant to soccer fans beyond providing mere results, basic info and videos. It is true that the Yahoo! sponsored FIFA website looks pretty beautiful, but there is just no substantial participatory element... Is that still good enough in the age of collective intelligence and grassroots journalism where everybody can have a say (even if it is still hard to get heard ;-)?
I find Joga.com an interesting experiment and really wonder if it will take off. It might depend how ready people and soccer-mads are for the participation age...