Sergey Brin and Larry Page are both passionate entrepreneurs and engineers, pushing projects they believe in, with wholehearted gusto. With Larry replacing Eric Schmidt as the CEO, he’s been pushing certain areas of growth. Given Larry’s history, many are expecting him to achieve the impossible, like the Google Books project, which was his personal goal for years.
Larry (and Google’s) ongoing passion is social networking. And he’s going at it Larry Page style, with tremendous zeal. Page is said to have sent a confidential memo to all those involved, that 25% of their annual bonus will depend on how their 2011 Social Networking strategy performs. This does not absolve other employees, as they have been asked to chip-in by pushing their social networking platforms among friends and family. Most employees, whether directly involved or not, have been asked to test and get feedback on these platforms.
The Zuckerberg Effect
Google has repeatedly said that Facebook is not their competition, despite the fact that most of Facebook’s important employees have been poached from Google. Could Zuckerberg be sending shivers down Google’s spine? Well, from the frenzy of social networking tests and activities in the Google office, it certainly seems so.
Google didn’t exactly miss the bus on social networking. They tried to buy Friendster but when they failed to do so, they encouraged their employees to work in this area. As part of the famed 20% independent project time, where Google engineers work on their pet projects that’s not part of their main work, Turkish engineer, Orkut Büyükkökten, created Orkut.
In fact, Google launched Orkut a month before Facebook, and in a much bigger way, while Mark had just got ‘The Facebook’ going from his dormitory. Losing the top social networking spot is now proving to be more than just an ego dent for Google, as Facebook has become a part of people’s everyday lives and is raking in millions of dollars.
Turns out, Google’s future success could depend, not on its search engine or email, but on social networking. Sounds a bit farfetched? Well, Google doesn’t think so.
The Google Ship
Outwardly, Google’s Ex-CEO, now Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, simply changed the conversation when Facebook was mentioned, by saying that the search engine Bing is a bigger threat. But those on the inside say that the truth is a bit different.
It is rumoured that in 2010, senior vice president of operations, Urs Hölzle, sent out an email to many of the employees about something he called, ‘Project Emerald’. The memo basically communicated approaching social networking with a sense of urgency and importance.
To demonstrate this visually, Project Emerald Sea had a ship being knocked over by waves, with the ship representing Google and the waves, presumably, social networking.
Despite what it claims, this is how important Google considers its social networking strategy for 2011.
Project Emerald developed into Google’s latest ‘social search service’ called +1 that was launched on April 6th this year. What +1 does is help users rank search pages and lets the members in their circle view these rankings, a Google profile, is required to become a user, contacts could be built through Gmail and other Google services. ‘The Social Circle and Content’ tab will help users view the results of friends and family, get recommendations and so on. While this definitely brings in a social element in Search, is it anything like Social Networking?
Critics are not very impressed, as they see nothing new here. Some have said, rather scathingly, that Google +1 has minuses!
Minus Social Strategy
Undoubtedly, Google does not lack the technical prowess needed to create a brilliant social networking platform. Just look at the astounding number of technical battles it has won, from bringing the daily news from the whole world on one web page through Google News to scanning most of the world’s books through Google Books, or turning internet TV on its head with YouTube, but it’s Achilles Heel is turning out to be Social Networking.
Experts believe the reason for Google’s failure to launch, in a manner of speaking in this sphere, is due to massive strategic missteps. Unlike its other projects, when it comes to social networking, Google has been inline but not really ahead of time. Although, it has shown tremendous faith in the area by fuelling internal projects and acquiring social platforms like Social Deck and Angstrom.
Increasingly, readers are discovering new pages through links spread on social networks, it would be hard to say how these Networks can replace Google’s major driver – the search engine. But Google has always been ahead of it’s time and given that it considers Social Networking to be such a big competition, it is possible, that in some way, these networks could make stand-alone Search obsolete.
Steven Levy, one of the most respected technology writers and the senior writer at Wired, has spent the last three years studying Google and its strategy, during this time, Google has been constantly conceptualizing and changing its social strategy. Steven has called Google’s approach to social networking, ‘a comedy of errors’.
Although, there’s nothing comical in this for users, who have always benefited from Google’s projects, be it blogging, search, map, news or reader. And it’s really hard to root for the underdog here, Facebook, given Zuckerberg’s popular perception. Isn’t it?