Google’s Latest Attempt at Social (and Why Facebook Isn’t Scared One Bit)

by Steve Campbell on December 8, 2010

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Why can’t Google get social right? Are they trying too hard? We’ve seen products like Google Buzz, Orkut, and Google Wave get rolled out, only to be ignored and forgotten, leaving Facebook time to perfect their product and continue to dominate the social space.

Where is it all heading?

I’ll tell you what I think…


Facebook owns social right now, plain and simple. Surely by now you’ve seen Facebook’s redesigned profile pages. What do you think of them? A lot of people are wondering why Facebook would make such a big change, especially when the majority of their users were perfectly happy with the way things were.

facebook profile redesign

I like the decision to aggressively implement new features into the site, but like it or not, Facebook has the freedom to behave like this simply because they are in the driver’s seat. What are we going to do if we don’t like something, go somewhere else? And where would that be? Myspace? Please.

In Zucks’ recent appearance on 60 Minutes, he discussed the new redesign (among other things). One of the things he talked about was the emphasis he wanted to place on photos, which had previously been something the site wasn’t geared towards.

Every change has something to do with tweaking the social aspect of the site, which is always evolving, and that’s what I like about it.

The bits of info that now reside at the top of our profiles were designed specifically to give new visitors your “elevator pitch”, or the essential pieces of info you might give someone when you first meet them (e.g. where you’re from, where you work). Just having that there will cause people to fill out that information (if it’s missing) and enable you to learn something about people when you first connect with them.

Social is what Facebook is good at. Eventually I think they’ll do battle in the search market, but we’ll discuss that when they get there.


And that brings us back to Google, who is good at search and not so much with social. Google’s overall growth as a company and their inability to get some of their products off the ground as of late is causing some of their employees to jump ship for companies like Facebook.

In the 60 Minutes interview (which you should definitely watch if you missed it), Lesley Stahl pointed out that Google has lost some 200 employees to Facebook alone, causing Google to consider creating a startup incubator within their own company to “retain nimble minds“.

And in the midst of all that, Google’s latest attempt at social has just been uncovered. Originally known as “Google Me”, then “Emerald Sea”, the product is currently being referred to as “Google + 1“, which is terminology you might be familiar with if you use Google Calendar to create meetings.

google + 1 toolbar

Google + 1 as it exists now is just something that resembles a social toolbar, at least according to TechCrunch, but it is reported to launch early next year. Do you think Google will be successful this time? When more facts are known, we’ll see how much “buzz” this generates.


Judging from what I’ve seen from Facebook and Google, I’d have to say it looks like it’s much easier to move from social into the search space than vice versa, which is what Google is faced with doing.

Are both companies naive to think they can win both?

Image Credit: Tiger Pixel

  • @stephenhau

    The way I see it, Facebook has the dominant position, because it does what it does well, because its users have invested their content there, and because there’s yet to be a credible alternative.
    Like you say, are the millions of average users going to up sticks for any of the other social profile sites? That’s not to say that Facebook does the right thing consistently. As someone wrote in a comment elsewhere, Facebook’s modus operandi is to aggressively push the limits of privacy, rein in when there’s a backlash, then repeat… each time ratcheting what we’d consider acceptable.

    Let’s see in the future what happens now that Facebook lets you export your data more conveniently – that’s definitely the right thing to do.

    I think the greatest factor will be what the average masses choose – they’re less rigorous than geeks in evaluating which service to use. For now, that’s Facebook.

  • Steve Campbell

    Great comment Stephen, thanks.

    You’re right, it is interesting how it seems that everything Facebook does brings up talk about invading our privacy. It just goes to show how important everybody sees the data we have on Facebook, which is another reason why I can see the majority of people spending a lot of time there for years to come. We’ve all invested a lot of time into that site and our data is very precious to us.

    Having said that, Google has a lot of really important data about us too, but it’s not as easy for people to realize because we merely use their tool and then leave the site. For them to figure out social, they are going to have to get us interested in spending more time there for reasons other than search.

  • Brent Jones

    If they put notices from my friends on their generic search page they would win my heart.

  • Zamdrist

    “Judging from what I’ve seen from Facebook and Google, I’d have to say it looks like it’s much easier to move from social into the search space than vice versa, which is what Google is faced with doing.”

    Has Facebook made any forays into the search realm? If they have, its news to me. Who’s to say they would be any more successful than Google in social?

  • Steve Campbell

    haha I don’t see that happening Brent. Google loves keeping their main search page clean, but I’m interested to see how they do go about incorporating the social features into the site.

  • Steve Campbell

    You’re right, it is still unseen, although it was briefly mentioned in the 60 Minutes interview. It is believed that search is where Facebook is heading though, eventually. Probably not to the extent that Google does it, but think of it this way…

    Would you rather get a movie recommendation or review of some kind from your friends (and their friends, your network, and so on) or get them based on a page you happened to find because a random person was good at SEO?

    If Facebook plays it right in the search game, they’ll have people spending a chunk of the time they would normally spend searching on Google, doing it from their own Facebook search box. And that is so interesting to me.

  • cq

    They might as well use their own search engine. Right now they employ bing, and it completely sucks.

  • @stephenhau

    If you search for something in Facebook, it brings up Facebook users/groups/pages with your search term, and then at the very end, some results from Bing. That’s as much a foray into search as I’ve seen from Facebook so far. And personally, I’m enough of a Google fanboy to mentally blank out those Bing results.

    Google might not have succeeded on a mainstream level so far with their social efforts (buzz, wave, orkut), yet I can see them taking lessons from those and moving on.

    I think the biggest barrier to Google doing social is the fact that they have so much of your data already if you use their many services (email, contacts, calendar, tasks, docs, picasa, bookmarks, reader, blogger profiles…), that they could make a pre-populated social platform quite easily for you – and for your average punter, that’s a scary prospect.

  • Steve Campbell

    That’s an excellent point Stephen, although Google claims to not “keep” any of our data that they collect. They could definitely create profiles for us if they wanted to.

    I think what’s hurting Google with social is that people have become so used to how Google currently works. Many times, without even thinking about it, I’ll go to Google, type something in, click one of the first links, and I’m done with it. Adding social features to it will be really difficult as I see people ignoring them for the most part, but you’re right, it’s Google…so we’ll see.

  • timmyjohnboy

    It seems to me that Google is so much more than just search these days. True, they’ve got search down better than anyone else, imo. For instance, I wouldn’t give up my gmail for anything (no, not even Facebook’s version of email). Now they’re well on their way to conquering the mobile realm (man I love me some Android!).

    Have you seen their slam promotions? They’re basically showing off the many areas Google is capitalizing on innovation and bringing us awesome services. I love seeing the commercials shared on Facebook!

    If Facebook and Google were smart, they’d stop trying to compete in areas and team up somehow. Staff in your weaknesses is what I always say. Learned that in bible college!

    There are other companies stepping in on services they both offer. Check out Posterous’ new group feature. It’s taking what Facebook groups and Google groups (!overview). I did a quick write-up on them not too long ago:

  • shle896

    I agree, Google has consistently dropped the ball where social is concerned. Facebook reigns supreme. Now if only they would add support for music – the one thing My Space does right!

  • Steve Campbell

    You’re right about that! Haha I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get into music, they’re already starting to challenge Netflix by renting streaming movies. Thanks for the comment! :)

  • Blog Design

    Google has a chance at becoming successful in the social media domain bnut it will not be through +1. Everyone uses google so there for it is one of those omnipresent sites, like facebook, but at the core of this problem is leveraging this advantage.

  • Anonymous

    Personally I still find many of Google’s offerings difficult to use. Perhaps a visual makeover would give more appeal.

  • Todd Skinner

    Why should Facebook be scared, they invented todays social network. This will require a pyridine switch in Google thought process in how they internally and externally fit in the marketplace and what they specialize in. If they push hard into social media they will quickly find out they have bit off more than they can chew.

    Todd Skinner – Visizzle – Branding – Marketing – Design