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For a while now, Google has admittedly had problem with *going social*.  Somewhat in their defense, many companies have tried to build social platforms and failed.  The disheartening thing about Google, though, is that they already have all the elements of a social platform and in many cases their products are a lot better.  However, like the awkward geeky kid in the corner of the class, they lack the ability to gain a social following, despite having these better products.  Here I do a personal analysis of why this is and what could be done to get Google to “Go Social”.


Central Hub
Google has all the elements of a social site, however, they are all disparate parts and properties of Google which do not come together anywhere.  Let’s compare this to Facebook, the mother of all social hubs.  Google has separate, sometimes better, solutions for each element of Facebook, let’s explore:   
  • Facebook Wall vs Google Buzz - In this instance they are about equal.  Both have basically the same purpose, provide a stream of information coming from a list of people that are being followed.  Google Buzz allows the user to, optionally, attach a location to a post, which can add extra context to a post.  There is room for improvement here on both sides.  For instance, all “friends” are not created equally, both could use some sort of grouping mechanism, a “favorites” or perhaps something similar to GMail’s priority inbox.  The streams get long and often there are many missed items if this stream is not constantly checked.  Allowing a grouping mechanism would allow a user to break out certain “friends” into separate streams, therefore making it less likely to miss their posts.  This is not the same as Facebook “groups” where there can be private discussions, but rather a way to filter the information coming across the wall.
  • Facebook Videos vs YouTube - In this case YouTube far outshines Facebook videos.  YouTube videos can be shared with anyone, regardless their membership, participation, or, increasingly, the ability to access (some companies block access to Facebook from work computers), any social network.  This allows YouTube videos to easily be referenced in other communication mediums, like Twitter and Email, by simply including a link.  YouTube also allows subscriptions with notifies subscribers when new content is uploaded.  It is important to keep these subscriptions separate from Buzz followers, but could be a nice integrated solution would allow for subscription notices be sent out via Buzz in addiiton to the YouTube notification section and email.
  • Facebook Pictures vs Picasa - Picasa offers a better solution for uploading photos with it’s desktop client.  The desktop client also helps those with permission the ability to download the entire album with the click of a button, compare to Facebook’s, view a photo, click download, click save, and repeat for each photo.  Picasa allows others, that you designate, to upload photos to the album, which helps when trying to get all the photos for a single event in one place, instead of spread out across many people’s pages.  Like the linking of YouTube, Picasa supplies links to either single photos or entire albums that be, optionally, seen by anyone, regardless of access to any social network.  Three tiered authorization allows Picasa albums to be viewed privately, only those that have been given a link, or the world.  Picasa also allows for the photos to be edited online via integration with Picnik.  The one place that Picasa does suffer is the lack of having a central hub to associate people with profiles, as is allowed in Facebook, instead of just names, which is what Picasa supports now.
  • Check Ins - Google handles check-ins and location based services through their Latitude service.  Latitude allows for automatically checking in to places you designate, which I’m a fan of.  Latitude goes further to provide live location tracking as well, for contacts you choose.  This is helpful when there are people waiting on your arrival, like if my wife is waiting for me to get home so we can go out, she can simply open her Latitude app and see how far away from home I am.  Also helpful when you have a bunch of people getting organized to attend an event, it even helps when at a concert or other large event where a group of people could get separated.

Despite having all these powerful services, they exist as separate entities, though with the increased focus on Google Profiles this seems to be improving.  Though these services should not be restricted to access from a central location, being able to get all the information these services provide from a single location is a critical element for Google’s success on the social front.  

BE Social  to Become Social
In order for Google to get Social, the must first BE social.  Social things are done for enjoyment. Social cannot be forced, but rather must be natural and easy.  Meaning if Google wants to be successful in the scope of social, they must play well with others, even when others want to make some of the rules themselves.  This may come as a new concept to Google.  Up to this point, Google being social meant Google sharing their information with others, meaning Google makes the rules.  Since the massive success of FaceBook and, to some extent, Twitter as well, Google being social means consuming information from other sources, meaning playing by the rules of others.  Not what Google is used to, however, playing well with others requires some give and take.  Instead of creating an “us or them” attitude, providing transparency would go a long way towards easing people off of current social networks and onto Google’s services.  Giver users all the experiences of being on FaceBook, without actually having to go to FaceBook.
  • Facebook - There were signs of Facebook integration with Google services, then, when Facebook refused to let Google crawl their site, Google slowly started removing Facebook integration features from their services.  In doing such, Google isolates, 600 million FaceBook users.  Not exactly the epitome of being social.  There are a couple things Google can do to appeal to Facebook users.  First realize and accept that Facebook has become the phone book, and social hub of the Internet and learn to work around that, accepting what access to Facebook’s data they are allowed and just work with it.  Next, make access to Facebook services as transparent as possible.  Here are some ideas:
    • Provide an option to list Facebook friends alongside GMail contacts.  
    • Make FaceBook messaging operate like email, just as MotoBlur makes Facebook messaging appear like text messaging on the Motorola Atrix.  
    • Optionally, show status updates from Facebook friends in Google Buzz.
    • Allow Buzz status updates to be posted as status updates in FaceBook.
    • Allow Latitude check-ins to be posted as Facebook check-ins.
    • Allow links to photos and photo albums to be posted on Facebook as easily as they can be posted on Twitter and Blogger
    • Allow users to create a Google Profile from the information they already have entered in Facebook.
    • YouTube appears to have updated their sharing and not only includes sharing on Facebook but also automatically shortens the urls... YouTube appears to have included automatic posting to Facebook, Twitter, etc. for uploaded videos as well, though I got some server error messages when I tried.  In the very least this means the functionality is on it’s way which is a very good thing.  This is the example to follow for the rest of the Google’s services.  
  • Twitter - Unlike Facebook, Twitter is sort of a one trick pony.  Not only that, but Twitter actually supports... er.. supported, third party development.  Though they now discourage developers from building Twitter clients, the APIs are still available to include Twitter feeds into various products.  This makes it relatively simple to interact with Twitter.  Google could allow a users Twitter stream to show in Google Buzz.  Additionally, Buzz posts could be converted to tweets and posted on Twitter.  The conversion would happen when Buzz posts are longer than Twitters allowed 140 characters, by posting the first 120 characters or so and inserting a shortened URL that tracks back to the original Buzz post.   It would be a great idea for Google to support common functionality as well, like re-tweets and to the extent possible, hashtags, like optionally performing a search and replace for terms previously appearing as hashtags in other tweets.

The idea is to provide an experience so transparent that a user could manage and interact several of the most popular social networks without leaving Google’s services, preferable the users Google Profile page.  Having a transparent setup would be provide an us AND them experience, rather than us OR them.  This allows users to switch over to using Google’s services without abandoning their current social graph.

Role Models
Google did get it right on some of their services.  Already mentioned, YouTube, has done the service integration well.  Allowing users to easily post videos and share them on their Facebook wall.  Google Places has also does a great job at integrating reviews from several sources, like Yelp, Yahoo! and TripAdvisor, as well as their own reviews.  These examples allow users to use these Google services without isolating themselves from the popular social networks that they are already a part of.  

Use Their Current Market Power
Google’s Android is the most popular mobile OS in the world.  Many, if not most, Android users either already have a Google account or create one when they get their Android device.  Once the transparent layers are in place, Google can use it’s popularity in search and mobile to start offering their services to users, pointing out that they don’t loose connectivity with their current social contacts.  An added bonus, not a requirement, would be if Google could come up with a simpler or more effective interface.
Though a wide adoption of their social products has, thus far, eluded Google, they definitely have all the necessary elements.  They just need a little cohesiveness, the willingness to play well with others, and the ability to promote or market their products without triggering anti-trust lawsuits.  

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Comment by Cameron Souza on April 30, 2011 at 11:57am
I agree with most of what James said below. Google is slowly winning this in a more organic, distributed, bit by bit manner.
Comment by James Pakele on April 30, 2011 at 9:34am

Google is not far behind at all, actually closer than many, perhaps even Google, may think.  

 

I'v heard that Google has an actual, well laid out, but not immediately visible plan to move towards the social aspect.  Google Plus1 is, likely, the first step in the initiative, similar to the FaceBook "Like" button but it shows up in Google searches, which makes it way more useful.  In theory one could add a company or person as a "friend", or whatever they want to call it, and instantly see their Plus1 search suggestions.  That's pretty powerful.  If they add some sort of grouping or "circles", if you will, it gets a lot more powerful.  Imagine we as TechHui members are part of the TechHui "circle" when I search I get links that, instead of just one person, are suggested by "TechHui circle members"... that's valuable information for me, I would definitely look at those result entries first, even if they aren't at the top of the page. Also, perhaps Engadget Editors circle, Android Central circle, Knitting Club of America circle, or other things...  Of course I use "Circle" because of the rumors a couple months ago, Plus1 was also rumored at the beginning of the year, it turned out not to be the grandiose thing that people speculated it to be, however it is the start of, what I believe, are great things to come.

 

As for taking a direct run at FaceBook... The only way that's going to work is if they put that transparent layer in the middle, allowing Buzz posts to appear on FaceBook wall, and FaceBook wall posts to appear in the Buzz stream.  Putting photos in Picasa, allows the user to also have it uploaded on FaceBook as well. Allowing people to "take their network with them" as they move over to Google's services.  This allows users to migrate to Google's services without having to move all their people as well.  

 

The key is to maintain continuity with their existing network of friends on the various social networks... essentially creating the one social network to rule them all.

 

Google also needs to also make a tool that can transfer the FaceBook, profile to a Google profile, the way they make it easy to switch email clients, because people are lazy and don't want to type it all in again.  No reason not to at least give it a try at that point.

 

Google can do much more in tracking actual behavior, through sites visited and the length of time spent on the sites, ads displayed vs ads clicked on, etc.  In Google's case the social graph and activity is just an additional indicator of the deciding algorithm instead of the basis, like with FaceBook.  The results and suggestions are, therefore, more valuable.  A lot of people portray advertising as an evil and unwanted nuisance, because, for years, we've had these ads interrupting our television and radio programming.  It's not so much the case for the internet.  While some irritating sites do modal ads that take over your entire screen and require an action to proceed most ads, Google included, simply display ads on the side, not really interrupting the users activity.  So, it's there if you want to see it and easy to ignore if you don't.  Flash ads are a little more irritating because they slow the page load time. 

 

As much as social is an obvious goal for Google.  A more interesting battle is going to be a little later in the year when Google takes a direct run at Microsoft with their Google Apps platform.  The indicators of this imminent battle are already laid out on Google's side.  ChromeOS and the CR48 pilot is coming to a close... Google is getting government certified, although they've had a minor spoof, to go after Microsoft's government contract(s).  Their stated release window of late June, early July for their commercial ChromeOS hardware.  And the latest, is Google's reduced 10 user limit, down from 50 users, for their free Google Apps service.  I think this year will lay the ground work and next year they could actually turn some decent profit from something other than ads...

 

 

Comment by Bully Soares on April 29, 2011 at 3:54pm

ADVERTISING! In essence you've hit the serious nail on the head there. Their (Google's) ability to provide the world with the "neat stuff" they do. (gmail, google apps, gtalk, etc) is predicated strictly on the revenue generated by ADVERTISEMENT! That's something Facebook took full advantage of once they got to the point where they "restructured" simply because, as you stated in earlier threads, they "mined" the user info at the very beginning of their "registering" on facebook. Because, frankly, they've already taken into consideration that although a user may want to remain "anonymous" their habits follow them.

So, even if a user does their best to remain anonymous, sooner or later, they'll tell a friend and at that precise moment that analytic bot kicks in and starts tracking the habit of the user. Much the same way Google search does.

You see, in my very own experience I realized the false sense of personal security that I had once I started getting lazy and let Google "finish my thoughts" if you will.


And in that sense, you are EXACTLY right when you say they're in a good place to execute a straight ahead run at facebook! :) But, it's probably gonna take a Daniel Leuck to show them how to "play as a band" instead of individual badass players that can solo like nobodies business but, can't for a cohesive melody as even a quartet, to save their lives.  Superior Technology be damned! :)


Another side of that particular 'coin' is the fact that you have EXCEPTIONAL players at Google and they are just too focused and learning their 'axe' that they're not really sure if they can play well with others. :) I mean, that's just my observation of it.

FB's approach was to be "approachable". "So, you don't like it this way, what would you do to make it better?...You're hired, get right on it and put your money where your mouth is!"

That "take action" kind of on the fly management style works for them. 

Their entity just provides tools to keep everybody "talking" to one another on their SM site.  Which, to date, is definitely the biggest one out there in terms of user population.  As you point out, it's worldwide and being from Hawaii and having close ties to Japan, we, here in Hawaii, already know the challenges. If they get to the right person FIRST in Japan, Google may have to revamp their whole approach the SM playground, if you know what I mean? :)

a hui hou Daniel! :)

Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 29, 2011 at 3:23pm

@Bully I too would like to see Google take a run straight at Facebook because I believe they have superior technology. That being said, Facebook has established some formidable barriers to entry, especially in the US and Europe. They could start in Japan where Facebook is struggling (although Japan has its own entrenched players.)

I think Google is poised to turn Google Apps into a serious business although currently it accounts for less than 2% of their revenue. Today they are an advertising company. 2011 may be the year they graduate into something more.

Comment by Bully Soares on April 29, 2011 at 1:24pm

Daniel, I have to agree with you about the fact that the few out there who would raise enough STRONG technological arguments as to the "failings" of facebook's programming are too few to make immediate changes occur. 

In looking at this purely from a consumer standpoint, there is no real rhyme or reason facebook is better than the other SM sites out there other than the fact that it's simply THEE easiest of the SMs to use...PERIOD!


That is based solely on the level of use by my own family and friends.  Therefore, my "known variable" is biased by FB's usage from my 'circle' if you will. and are localized to that point. But, in actuality it's a sample set not unlike the 'average' fb user throughout the world.

 

The level of computer sophistication of the AVERAGE user is from total novice to an intermediate level of MS office to possibly a pretty good working knowledge of HTML, CSS, Java, etc.  Actually, I think I may give many of them too much credit.  But, I'm into giving everyone the "benefit of the doubt" if you will.

Where this strand/thread has lead is simply to address the comparisons between the two GIANTS in the "industry".  Let's face it, neither are going away.

 

But, as you've so aptly pointed out, Google never started out in the direction of "let's all play in this box here..." What they did, was to set out to compete in a relatively untapped market at that time.  Cloud services.

 

So, their meetings were probably about covering the "demographics" I mentioned above.  Allowing them to 1) not make a large investment in MS Office  2) Give them a place to share their thoughts with others in their small circle of friends and family, building up to a version of their respective SaaS that would be or is Enterprise capable and cost effective.

 

The FB SM model was, unfortunately, not in their sites as the set of obtainable company goals.

 

Look what FB did with it. They basically said, "Hey can I play with that?" and started working on ways to integrate Google and whomever else wanted to come aboard and "play" with them.

 

Looking at it strictly from a consumer-esque perspective, FB gives them a majority of what THEY want to see and use...PERIOD!  You have to keep in mind that the general audience is not that sophisticated in terms of complex technological "usership".   If we were to do an analytical model based on average user backgrounds we'd probably come up with the same thing in terms of the results we're discussing here.  Thereby giving us the reason that Google didn't get into when they did.

 

The fact is that Mark Zuckerberg and his friends found a niche and exploited it to the fullest. As a matter of fact they're still improving upon it.

 

To expect Google to get into the market at this stage of the game is basically asking them to "build a better mousetrap" which people like you, myself and the colleagues on this thread would actually welcome because we see the benefit(s) of it.

 

The point remains, however, that there is in fact a new industrial paradiagm that has nothing to do with actually building a "new" mousetrap but as, FB did and many other SM sites have done since is built upon an IM/Email model that basically states..."I want all right here and right now!"

 

Mobile platform just fit right in like it was made for it! :)

 

I, for one, look forward to the day Google does their own FB.  I believe their version would be so incredibly awesome it would make everyone go..."NOW THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!!!" :)


The question is, do they want to go there? :)

Again this is just my two cents. Not very technical I know. I leave that up to you guys. But, again, neither is the average consumer of both these entities. They end up being our clients as well! :) :) :) Just sayin' :) :) :)

Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 29, 2011 at 8:55am

Brian: I think social networking, as we look ahead, has to mean more - and while I agree Google does not have as cohesive and obvious a "social networking" presence as Facebook  - This is indisputable - I do think Google is extremely well-positioned - I think even better than Facebook - at mining social networks for knowledge.

Each of us has multiple badges in our social networking toolkit. You may have twitter, yelp, facebook, random message boards, email addresses, etc.. it doesn't really matter - those make up your identity. Most of us tend to reuse the same or similar usernames so it's fairly easy to track us around and map our behaviour.

True, but one of the problems for Google is that much of this is behind a password wall and therefor not index-able. Facebook's advantage is that they have become the de facto standard directory and social graph for people on the web. This means they know who you are, a great deal of your personal details, what you do, when you do it, who your friends are, what they do, when they do it, etc... Its a marketer's dream. They know more about you than any other company. This is very, very valuable because almost everything you do on the web can be improved by having good contextual information. Their enormous user base and mind share (for the average person social network = Facebook) are significant barriers to entry. People often point to MySpace as an example of how quickly a social network's user base can evaporate but they never had penetration anywhere near Facebook's - over 500M active users averagung 130 friends, 30B peices of content in 70 languages, etc. The average person has invested too much time in their Facebook presence to change without a very compelling reason to do so.

Brian: Now you can say.. ahah! We need to capture another piece of data! Let's add this field.. but you can't do that for everything. At a certain point you need to get past the binary "on/off" (Like/Null - since facebook doesn't have a dislike) - and understand preferences in a finer way. Facebook does not do this at all and it is a significant weakness for its recommendations engine.

Facebook has no clue how I associate with my friends, and it gives me the whackiest recommendations for "people I know".

Sure, but recommendation algorithms can easily be tweaked and improved over time. Having the data to feed them is the hard part. Look at Netflix. Their recommendation engine use to be relatively poor but via strong hires and well structured contests they have evolved it into the best algo in the industry.

Finally, your examples all cite failures of Facebook's recommendation engine to make good recommendation to you. You have to consider the possibility that your group of friends and interests is more eclectic than most and is, therefor, not representative. I say this as one weird guy to another :-)

Google is a great company that does many things very well. They have great technology and great people. I've bet on them many times in many ways, but they are getting their okole kicked in the SM space and that could have implications for the future of search engines.

Comment by Brian on April 29, 2011 at 6:28am

I deleted my previous comment because it was written very poorly which I apologize for.

 

What I was trying to say, is that I think the definition of "social networking" right now is associated very strongly in our minds with certain established paradigms. Facebook is absolutely the most successful of these, but I've always believed this is a case of doing something very well, rather than something particularly new - the tweak of course with Facebook was it used real names instead of screennames. The impact of this was huge but out of my scope here.

 

I think social networking, as we look ahead, has to mean more - and while I agree Google does not have as cohesive and obvious a "social networking" presence as Facebook  - This is indisputable - I do think Google is extremely well-positioned - I think even better than Facebook - at mining social networks for knowledge.

 

Each of us has multiple badges in our social networking toolkit. You may have twitter, yelp, facebook, random message boards, email addresses, etc.. it doesn't really matter - those make up your identity. Most of us tend to reuse the same or similar usernames so it's fairly easy to track us around and map our behaviour.

 

Facebook has it easy - you "Like" something and they know - but that's only part of the picture.

 

If you really want to understand someone's preferences and affiliations, you need to look at their actual behaviour - their real choices, not just what they say they like. I'm sure there are many books and theses about this but it should be pretty obvious that there are things you say you like.. but may not "convert" into any sort of action - and conversely there are things you like but perhaps are ashamed or simply don't think to express.

 

I mean this is why dating sites don't work right? If preferences were easy to elicit then we'd have no problem hooking up with the right person! I'd know who I am and what I want.. she the reverse.. cha-ching! A simple database search!

 

Real preferences simply do not work this way.. and that's important for anyone trying to sell me something - which is.. oh.. everyone.

 

This comes out in Facebook's ads in related ways.. For example I work for the military and obviously as a result have a lot of Facebook friends that are in. Consequently Facebook loves to shower me with ads targetted at uniformed military (usually car loans!). Facebook does not understand the nuanced relationship I have with this (admittedly) fairly significant part of my current life.

 

Now you can say.. ahah! We need to capture another piece of data! Let's add this field.. but you can't do that for everything. At a certain point you need to get past the binary "on/off" (Like/Null - since facebook doesn't have a dislike) - and understand preferences in a finer way. Facebook does not do this at all and it is a significant weakness for its recommendations engine.

 

Facebook has no clue how I associate with my friends, and it gives me the whackiest recommendations for "people I know".

 

So while I am not trying to bash Facebook - as it does something very well and I'm sure it will continue to be very successful - I do not agree that Google (nor others) are as massively behind the curve and that they are "not being social". I think that's a bit of a shallow analysis of what I consider to be a more interesting and complex phenomenon.

 

Comment by James Pakele on April 19, 2011 at 6:11pm
@Bully... Running with your music analogy... The band has yet to all arrive in the studio at the same time... Each member has had separate studio time up to this point, and each sound great in their own right.  When Google can get them to all show up in one place, then the producer can tweak their sound, and, hopefully, we'll have a hit on our hands...
Comment by James Pakele on April 19, 2011 at 6:08pm
@Cameron... The 900lb gorilla may sit dormant but have it start loosing relevance and it will definitely strike out... I don't know if they would take the Apple approach and slap everyone with law suits, but you never know.  FaceBook has yet to face the threat of irrelevance or shrinking numbers, even through all the privacy hoopla, so we don't know how they would react.
Comment by James Pakele on April 19, 2011 at 6:06pm

@Marcus... I believe the solution lies around Google Profiles, which is, sort of, being transformed into a FaceBook wall, with the inclusion of your Buzz posts.  They need to add the rest, like Buzz from people I'm following, as well as the ability to have this Buzz pushed to FaceBook and Twitter.  It would also do them some good to make a tool, much like their email account transfer tool, that imports a person's profile information from their FaceBook profile.  It helps with adoption as people don't have to re-enter their information.  

 

They have already been revamping Google Profiles, I just hope they keep going until it evolves into the ultimate personal hub.

 

I just assume that Google has all my information anyways and take the resistance is futile train of thought.  I usually get a giggle about how paranoid people used to be about Google and the information Google collected, then the same people would go over and enter everything down to their cell phone numbers into FaceBook...  Now FaceBook has the bank of information many feared Google would have.  My problem with FaceBook having it is it doesn't benefit me much.  They share it with my friends but that's about it.  I much rather have a service like Google's +1 that at least, attempts, to help me find things on the web.

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