New Google CEO Larry Page, who stepped into the job this week, believes that Google needs to go “social” to compete.
To that end, he sent out a company-wide memo last Friday, alerting employees that 25% of their annual bonus will be tied to the success or failure of Google’s social strategy in 2011.
“This is a joint effort so it’s important that we all get behind it,” we’re told Page writes in the confidential memo, subject-lined “2011 Bonus Multiplier.”
Page tells employees that are not directly involved in Google’s social efforts that they, too, will be held accountable. He writes that employees must test the products and give feedback.
Page wants these employees to push Google’s social products on their “family and friends.”
“When we release products, try them and encourage your family and friends to do the same.”
Google PR tells us: “We’re not going to comment on internal matters.”
When Google gave all of its employees a 10% raise and $1,000 bonus last fall, it was part of a move to abolish bonuses that had been based on an annual company multiplier – where employee bonuses were multiplied against some figure correlated to the overall company’s performance.
In 2011, the returned company multiplier will be somewhere between .75 and 1.25 – depending on how well Google does in social.
That means employees’ bonuses could shrink by 25% if Google doesn’t perform. One Googler we talked to was irritated by a new risk being introduced into their compensation package.
And, indeed, there is plenty of risk in betting that Google will suddenly compete in social. It’s been trying for years and has mostly failed at every step.
Earlier this month Google launched its latest social effort, called +1. It’s a button next to the blue links on Google Search results the users can click on to say, in Google marketing’s words, “this is something you should check out.”
When you click the button, Google tells your friends, family, and the rest of the world that you recommended the link.
For now, +1 buttons are only in Google search results, but Google says that they’ll soon be elsewhere.
We’re guessing you’ll see them in articles, videos, on ads, and even on Amazon product pages – everywhere you see Facebook “like” buttons and Twitter “re-tweet” buttons today.
Speculating, we assume Google will use all the recommendations to not only improve search results, but also to bring content and URLs into some sort of content stream on Google.com that will look a lot like the Twitter stream and the Facebook News Feed looks now.
Increasingly, people are finding content to consume and things to buy online on Facebook (and to a lesser degree, Twitter) before they ever get a chance to search for it on Google. +1 is Google’s effort to get in on that action.
And that’s why Google’s so paranoid about social that it’s tying ALL employee’s bonuses to the social strategy’s success.
After Friendster said 'no thanks' to Google's takeover bid -- one of the greatest mistakes in corporate history -- Google got employee Orkut Buyukkokten to build a competing social network. It launched in 2004 and for some reason got huge in Brazil. It's still big there today, but numbers starting to decline.
Google bought Picasa, which offered online photo-editing software in 2004. A couple years later, Google rolled out Picasa Web Albums, an online photo-sharing site.
But users saw little reason to go to a separate photo-sharing site when they could simply upload photos to Facebook and immediately share them with friends and family on the service -- without sending them to a separate URL.
Google unveiled this open API platform, built in conjunction with MySpace and other social networks, in 2007. The idea was to provide a way for sites to access data stored in all social networks.
There was only one problem: Facebook was busy building its own competing platform. Without the support of the largest social network, the coalition started to falter a few months later, and today few developers consider it a serious competitor to the Facebook Platform.
In 2007, Google bought this company, which is like Twitter with a few twists -- like the ability to put icons into messages. Twitter quickly surpassed it, and n 2009, Google stopped developing the product and released its code into the open-source wilderness.
This service offered real-time collaboration -- sort of like instant messaging meets an old-school bulletin board, wrapped up in Gmail. It could have made an interesting enterprise tool, but Google pitched it at consumers, who didn't understand what it was for. Google discontinued development in summer 2010.
Buzz is a Facebook-like news feed that launched in Gmail last February. The idea might have gotten some traction, but Google messed up on the privacy settings -- it basically shared information about your Gmail habits with other Buzz users, and wasn't always clear about who was able to see what. The end result: the FTC investigated, and now will be watching Google's privacy practices with a microscopic eye for the next 20 years.
In February 2010, Google paid $50 million to buy this 'social Q&A' company, which lets you post questions to be answered by experts in your area. But Google hasn't done much with the service since -- it's not integrated into Google's core search results -- and Q&A service Quora has gone on to become the darling of the tech set in Silicon Valley.
Google bought social-app company Slide last summer for around $200 million, and continues to operate it as a pseudo-independent company within Google. Slide recently released a group messaging app called Disco, but that's about it.
Google's +1 social search service has a couple of legs up on these other social initiatives. First, it's refreshingly simple -- unlike Wave, for example. Second, it's an add-on to Google's core business of search, so it probably won't be allowed to wither and die quietly.
But it probably won't be enough to stop Facebook and other social services like Twitter from grabbing an increasing share of attention and time from users. And where the users go, eventually the ad dollars follow.
Google is still a great place to find general information, and adding a social element will make that information better. But it won't replace the interactions between friends, colleagues, and respected strangers that take place every day on Facebook, Twitter, and other rising social sites like LinkedIn.
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