Can Google really compete in the social space?

CircusGoogle has come a long way. To most, however, Google is still just a search engine - the great internet unwashed who use the web for little more than buying dvds.

For Google to become a verb is a great achievement and really gives a brand loyalty and, perhaps, even misguided sense of ownership over the search service because of the simple familiarity - everyone knows what you mean. To "Google" something entered our vocabulary but if their "Facebook killing" offering in the social space really is going to be called "Google Me" then it will redefine the term completely. Will people adjust or just become confused?

Currently, to "Google me" means to search for me in their search engine - in future it will mean to interact with me on their social service - those who do not "get" social media will be speaking a different language to those who spend their time between the Facebooks and Twitters of this hyper-connected world.

Up for the challenge?

If anyone has the ability and size to challenge Facebook then Google is probably the only company that could pull it off. Most of the components are already there in some form or another but the problem is that there is no cohesive strategy (presumably where Vic Gundotra comes in to play) and no glue to hold it all together.

As I have already said, before all of the talk about Google Me became the topic du jour, Google needs to link things together to provide an holistic service. We have the status updates (Buzz), videos (YouTube), photos (Picasa), productivity (Docs) and so on but there is nothing to link them together into one easy to use service - hence my feeling that Google profiles could become the gateway to a new combined offering.

We see the beginnings of cohesion with the integration between Buzz, Reader and Gmail but this does not go far enough or allow enough control.

Eric Schmidts recent comments that Buzz is just an extension of GMail do not make good reading unless you extrapolate and reach the conclusion that GMail itself will become part of the cohesive strategy that is Google Me - just another avenue for communication all linked in under the umbrella of your Google (Me) account. On these terms Buzz doesn't need to become a standalone service but DOES need an easier point of entry than being a folder in GMail. That point of entry will be the profile page which should become more like your Facebook page. The profile page could do everything we need with a public view for our news feed, activity and shared items etc. and private view which lets us get to all of our stuff: GMail, Social network etc.

The longer we have no noise from Google on what is going to happen the more we will lose faith in the process and, ultimately, the end product. Obviously, they are not in a position to give us specifics and warn the competition but a few nods or pointers to plans and timescales would not go amiss.

Change

Not only will the googling public need to rethink the way they refer to the service but Google itself will need to rethink how it launches, promotes and supports any new service. Google Me will not work if it is merely opened and left to fend for itself relying on word of mouth; "build it and they will come" will not work in this instance. People must be given a full explanation of what the service can provide, how it can benefit them and what it does differently to the competition (i.e. Facebook). They must be sold on the new offering by comprehensive campaign and, once joined, kept up to date and supported fully.

Google cannot rely on gaining traction simply because the service is an extension of Gmail, or whatever, instead Google Me must be marketed completely and effectively as a viable alternative to Facebook to entice in more than just the curious Gmail user.

There is a huge, and rapidly growing, market for Google Me in Android users and Google simply HAS to take advantage of this. The integration of existing Google apps into Android is seamless but Google Me must go even further - even, perhaps, becoming the core of the Android experience in the future.

How much is too much?

Chad Catacchio over at The Next Web makes a good point that Google can utilise its experience with location to "hit Facebook where it is weakest". Social location applications such as Foursquare, despite having a lot of users, have limited appeal with many not seeing the point of "checking in" - perhaps this is because they do not go far enough.

Twitter now recommends who you might like to follow but a location based recommendation engine for people, places, services and more could be a big win for Google if they managed to pull it off.

Any location based functionality in Google Me would have to be a very sleek implementation or the service could run into difficulties with trying to achieve too much in many diverse areas - everything to everyone - and the focus could drift.

Roll up, roll up!

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for Google will be to penetrate the market and just relying on their name will not help (killing off Wave shows this is the case). Google Me must be easy to use with functionality that is obvious to the layman and sufficiently differentiated from the competition to overcome the apathy of those not wanting to up sticks and switch to a Facebook clone.

Google must hand out the flyers and shout from the rooftops about their new offering targeting luddites, enthusiasts, Facebookers and developers alike; engaging many groups on many different levels and persuading them to buy a ticket when the circus rolls into town will be a gargantuan, but necessary, task.

Many are genuinely excited by the potential of Google Me but there is the possibility that it could either make or break Google. The search giant already has its detractors because of their apparent throw it at the wall and see how much sticks approach to product launches. This combined with them looking to build a social empire by acquisition could spell danger if those acquisitions are not properly integrated and the whole does not become more than the sum of its parts.

On the other hand, rather than being the circus clowns, if Google get it right they can finally prove themselves as the ring masters.

Image by on1stsite

  1. Mark Dykeman says: #
    So, Google as a generic destination instead of just a search page? It's funny how Facebook insinuated its way into becoming a portal, much like Yahoo used to be at one time. And Yahoo started with search (I think?) as well.
  2. Colin says: #
    Makes sense doesn't it? Especially if a more social emphasis is placed on search results with recommendations or likes contributing to the page rank - an extension of the current "your social circle" functionality. I think there could be some very interesting stuff happening in the future as long as Google manage it properly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.