Here's The Real Reason Google Is So Worried About Facebook

Google Buzz

Google is preparing another attempt to crack the social networking world owned by Facebook, and to a lesser extent, Twitter.

Why is Google travelling down this path once again? Aren’t the failures of Dodgeball, Orkut, Jaiku, Buzz, Wave, etc. enough for Google to realise that it just doesn’t understand social networking?

Maybe, but Google can’t afford to watch the web become social without it. 

As Google researcher Paul Adams explains in a huge deck of slides getting passed around on the web, people buying things are more inclined to trust their friends than strangers – or search ads.

Do you think Facebook or Google is more trustworthy if you’re thinking about buying the new Prince CD? What about a new toaster? Or a new golf club? Today, it’s probably Google, but soon enough you could be asking Facebook friends what to buy.

It’s this threat that should (and probably does) scare the pants off Google’s executives.

Adams revealed some of these threats in his presentation –  a great read in the context of him presenting these results to Google execs who are plotting “Google Me.”

A couple things to keep in mind: This presentation isn’t new. And it’s not necessarily indicative of how Google feels. The company has hundreds of researchers.

Still, we think this is instructive for people wondering why Google wants to get in the social network business.

Google search is an isolated experience. We don't have our friends helping us.

That's starting to change. Google is seeing more social results popping up.

Yet, people are relying on each other increasingly, de-emphasising the need for Google, ultimately.

Adidas can't SEO your friend to get him to recommend its sneakers.

Wonder if this is why Google was interested in Yelp?

Our time online is increasingly hogged by Facebook and other social networks.

This seems key for Google. The company is great at technology and engineering. Not so great at social interactions.

Before Google jumps back into social networking, it better figure out what everyone is doing on Facebook.

Also key for Google, understanding how we segregate our groups of friends.

When we broadcast through Facebook we don't always hit the target audience. We have different groups of friends we care about.

Therefore, a social network that wants to improve on Facebook should try to think about this problem.

We have a variety of relationships of varying strength.

Guess what? We only have 4 really good friends.

And that's reflected on Facebook.

Now we're getting into neat facts territory...

This makes sense since Skype is still pretty new as a technology.

This isn't a new phenomenon. (Doesn't this feel like a Malcolm Gladwell presentation all the sudden?)

So, any successful social network needs to focus on maximizing the strong ties.

Those strong ties are important because we only trust so many people, especially when it comes to making purchases.

More Gladwell-esque data. We can only handle knowing 150 people at a time.

The 150 thing has held throughout time.

Even the Romans were into it, supposedly.

But, aren't Yelp and Facbeook all about making weak ties strong?

Temporary ties can be reviews on Yelp, or someone we met once and friended on Facebook.

Despite the ethereal nature of these ties, we still trust them.

And so a social element is baked into most commercial sites now.

For Google, or anyone, to build a new social network, it has to figure out if its aiming at a broad group like Yelp, or a tight group like Foursquare.

We may accidentally run into a large number of weak ties, but we talk to just a few close ties repeatedly.

Our use of friends to make decisions is nothing new. It's been happening since Tupperware parties.

Why do we trust our bird-brained friends? Because we don't trust ourselves.

We need social networks to help with decisions, because we are bombarded with information.

It's still tough to figure out how to harness all the social elements.

From a company's perspective, does it make more sense to spend on traditional influential media, or on places where the people are?

Should you advertise across someone's network?

Yes! We listen to our friends all the time.


People do care about privacy despite what some want to say.

Interesting statement to make in the context of Facebook's latest privacy flap.

Yo, Facebook, you hear this?

So far this hasn't been an issue for Facebook.

Here's the full presentation

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