Google is preparing yet another attempt to crack the social networking market. The project is reportedly called “Google Me,” and it will be a Facebook clone.What are the odds that Google finally gets it right with social networking? Not good. At least that’s what Silicon Valley’s tech insiders think.
There’s numerous people in Quora asking a variation of the question, “Can Google beat Facebook? Why or why not?” The answer is basically, “no.”
Here’s four interesting takes:
Craig Dos Santos, Head of Mobile Gaming, Playdom:
I’d say no. Google tends to excel at projects that are, at their core, hard technical challenges, not product challenges. Building a social network needs more product expertise at it’s core. From what I know of the company’s internal workings… they are set up to excel at hard technical challenges, while strong product managers are still not the drivers of products.
Aaron B Iba, Worked on the Orkut team at Google in 2005:
I worked at Google in 2005 and briefly on the Orkut team. I encountered an environment that viewed social networking as a frivolous form of entertainment rather than a real utility, and I’m pretty sure this viewpoint was shared all the way up the chain of command to the founders.
At that time, hardly anyone at Google actually used Facebook, so they just didn’t understand what people were getting out of social networking products. Incredibly, many people on the Orkut team did not use their own product (let alone Facebook) outside of work. By contrast, everyone I know who worked at Facebook was a passionate user of that product.
Ultimately, I believe Google didn’t succeed at social networking because of this widespread misunderstanding of the value in social networking products.
Peter Deng, I work here [at Facebook]
1. Prioritization and determination. I don’t think these big companies wanted to own this space as much as Facebook did. Social networking didn’t fit neatly into Google’s mission of “organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible through search.” In the case of Microsoft, I don’t think they saw social networking as something that would help “people and businesses will fulfil their potential.” I’m not sure what Yahoo was doing — they seemed to lack focus all around.
2. Approach. When the big players finally decided to really compete in this space, their approach was wrong. Social networking is very human. Social interactions are complex, and building a good product requires a lot of attention to detail. As an outsider, it seems that these big companies thought, “How do we get people to use this? How many features can we cram in?” instead of “What is the best experience for users?”
3. Too much baggage. Most importantly, these big guys also had a lot of internal constituents to worry about. I can imagine whenever someone at Microsoft had a new idea, they were asked to talk to the director of Windows Live to get approval and have a 3-year plan for integration. Googlers probably needed to build on top of Orkut and work within existing paradigms even if they were wrong. And of course, the big companies probably needed to make sure the advertisers were taken care of before launching. Just build the damn thing and iterate.
I think this is generalizable into other companies/verticals as well; focused startups have an advantage over bigger companies that are less focused or have more baggage. Move quickly and focus on the product.
Disclosure: I currently work for Facebook. These views are my own and are not representative of those of my employer
Keith Rabois, Internet entrepreneur:
Large companies only track revenue threats, which on the consumer web lags behind user adoption. By the time the revenue impact is apparent, it is too late to compete with a consumer product with traction and network effects.
And here’s Keith on what Google should do in social:
…1. Buy Twitter, definitely. Acquire LinkedIn, probably.
Excluding Facebook, Twitter is the only product with proven ability to entice normal people to produce and share content on a broad array of topics in scale. If Twitter were acquired by Microsoft or Apple and the licence to use its data terminated, Google would confront a major challenge almost immediately.
LinkedIn has the proven ability to entice normal professionals in scale to create a professional profile. The data on a LinkedIn profile is probably as valuable as the data on a Facebook profile.
Google cannot build a Twitter product nor a LinkedIn product internally.
2. Acquire Quora (probably not possible at the moment)
3. Consider building a more fun (read edgier version) of Facebook. Facebook has morphed into a substantially more utilitarian product over the last three years and as a result has more impact on the World, but it has also diminished its appeal for stalking, flirting and other risque activities. But sex sells (see Chatroulette).
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