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 HubGoogle 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:
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 SocialIn 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 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.
- 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.
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.