Google’s Facebook-Killer Slowed By Political Infighting

Max Levchin

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Google is terrified of Facebook, but it’s having a hard time getting its act together to do anything about it.You’ve probably read reports that Google is working on a Facebook-killer – some kind of “social layer” that will fit over all its products.  At various points this project has been described in the press as Google Me, +1, and Google Games.  Google acquired SocialDeck and Angstro to bolster its engineering roster in the talent space.

The problem, we hear from people close to the company and others who used to work there, is that these various projects do exist – and not as one coherent strategy.

For example, while Google engineering lead Vic Gundotra, best known for turning Google’s Android into a dominant mobile platform, is leading a Google social project, so is Max Levchin, the serial entrepreneur Google brought into the company when it acquired Facebook app-maker Slide last summer.

Recently, we asked a source close to Max if he’s happy at Google. The answer?


(That means no.)

Other nibbles of information we’ve heard about what Google is working on point to more confusion.

“They don’t know what they want,” a source close to someone Google tried to hire for its social team tells us.

An ex-Googler source blames the problem on “political infighting.”

Likewise, a source at a company Google recently tried to buy told us one big reason he turned down Google’s offer is that Google wanted to integrate the startup’s team into its social project, but didn’t know who the people at this acquired startup would be reporting to or how its technology would be used.

Finally, another Valley source told us: “It’s called +1.  It sucks.”

Why is Google so scared of Facebook?

A decade or so ago, Google came up with the best way to figure out what normal people thought were the most important things to find on the Internet – by scanning the source code of all the pages on the Web for links and then ranking those pages by the number of links directed at each.

Google was able to scan most of the Internet and this meant it had access to almost 100% of the best meta-data anybody could have for sorting and organising the thing.

A lot has changed in the last dozen years.

For the past 5 years, there’s been Facebook, which is now up to more than 500 million monthly active users. There’s also Twitter.

What scares Google about Twitter and Facebook is that people are using them to share links, “like” web pages, and favourite tweets. People are using Twitter and Facebook to say what they think are the most important things on the Internet.

Because Twitter and Facebook are black boxes Google can’t crawl, it no longer has access to anything close to 100% of the best meta-data available for sorting and organising the Internet. 

If Google had that data – and if it its users felt they needed to set up Google accounts – it would be able to offer better, more personalised search. It would be able to recommend content and Web pages to its users without asking them to search.

Google doesn’t have that data and at from it’s very highest levels on down, the company is worried that its search will slowly become a less important tool for navigating the Internet.

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