Commentary

Google, Trust Me: The World Doesn't Need Another Facebook-Style Social Network

And here I thought Google's new social network was called Google Buzz -- but reports this week say it's actually named Google Me. This is an offering that Google is apparently very serious about because Google Buzz, which launched earlier this year, didn't stop Google's social networking itch.  

No surprise there, as Google Buzz doesn't seem to have much, well, buzz. After an initial burst of publicity -- much of it to do with the early misstep of having user accounts auto-follow one another -- it's not exactly the talk of the town, which means it's not the social net of the town either. So, now, reportedly, Google is throwing something called Google Me at the wall and seeing if it will stick. 

But this time -- although the whole initiative remains unconfirmed by Google -- the company is serious. Really serious. According to former Facebook CTO Adam D'Angelo, who has become the de facto authority on Google Me, for whatever reason: "Unlike previous attempts (before Buzz at least), this is a high-priority project within Google ... They had assumed that Facebook's growth would slow as it grew, and that Facebook wouldn't be able to have too much leverage over them, but then it just didn't stop, and now they are really scared." 

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But is being scared a reason to build a social network? Does the world even need another one? I'd argue no -- if the whole goal is to be a direct competitor to Facebook. If that's all Google is contemplating in creating Google Me, it's got it ass-backwards. The question for Google execs shouldn't be how to directly compete with Facebook, but what users want. It would do well to remember that before the first Sponsored Link was ever served, Google built its service around user experience. In this instance, I don't think what users want is a Facebook clone -- we've already got that experience.

TechCrunch pointed out yesterday that "nearly 500 million people already have their content stored on Facebook" -- but that's a fairly simplistic way of looking at how embedded Facebook is in daily life. It's also about the relationships we have on Facebook that can't be easily ported over to another social net. To have the same robust experience elsewhere that we have on Facebook, we'd have to convince most of our Facebook friends to move over to Google Me. 

And a deeper reality of social networks is becoming clear as the industry matures: People don't have a problem with being members of a few social networks, as long as they all offer different experiences. Think of four of the most popular social networks: Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Twitter. They all fall into the broad social networking category, but each have extremely distinct characteristics. While Facebook is for general socializing, Foursquare is location-based, and LinkedIn for business. Twitter is in a space all its own, as a place for status updates among broad groups of people who wouldn't necessarily qualify as Facebook friends. Each fulfills a different need.  

When MySpace began to slide downhill, it was largely because Facebook did most of the things MySpace did in a smarter way. There simply wasn't room -- or need -- for both of them. Theoretically that leaves room for a better Facebook, but, even if it's being created by Google, that's not a very reasonable aspiration. Not when Facebook has hundreds of millions more users than MySpace did at its peak. The mountain is just getting too high. 

So what should Google do? Identify a need in social networking that isn't being met by existing networks. Then maybe it will have a shot at being a real player in social networking. Unless you count Orkut.  

5 comments about "Google, Trust Me: The World Doesn't Need Another Facebook-Style Social Network".
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  1. Ellen Lebowitz from Ellen Lebowitz Press, June 30, 2010 at 5:18 p.m.

    Thank you for this post, Catharine. I couldn't agree with you more regarding the lack of need for yet another social network site.

    Social media is useful for somethings but as a medium, it has its cultural and intellectual limitations.

    I use social media but I am aware of its actual purpose.

  2. Dana Lancaster from iWin, June 30, 2010 at 6:14 p.m.

    Great insight. My only beef is your description of Twitter: "Twitter is in a space all its own, as a place for status updates among broad groups of people who wouldn't necessarily qualify as Facebook friends." We need to stop using the term "status updates" for Twitter, which implies its original intent - what you are doing. I would describe Twitter more as "a place for sharing information and conversation among broad groups of people with common interests who wouldn't necessarily qualify as Facebook friends." And once you develop more trusting relationships with people on Twitter based on that conversation, they may become Facebook friends.

    Not the point of your post, but I think there are still misconceptions about Twitter among those who say "I can't be on more than one network" and I feel that they are in fact totally different animals - which is why, to your point, Twitter has succeeded in being unique.

  3. Clinton Gallagher, June 30, 2010 at 8:23 p.m.

    Facebook is vulnerable in one regard we all know will herd all of those millions of people to another choice. We see it again and again do we not? That vulnerability is their software which quite frankly everybody knows is gfs.

    In this context Facebook has nothing going for it than Facebook; one inch deep and one mile wide with nothing else in their portfolio.

    Given the strength of Google's brand and their ability to build better software they certainly have an opportunity to displace Facebook and the real key in doing so? The "what's in it for me" greed factor that motivates most human behavior.

    Whichever of these titans of social play to that inherent human behavior motivator will win those people over for the long haul. IMO Google has the best chance of doing so as they have a huge portfolio to integrate.

  4. Britta Meyer from Loomia, June 30, 2010 at 9:13 p.m.

    Catharine, just like Ellen, I completely agree with you. At this level of adoption and maturity of the social network space, it would be much more difficult to replicate a Facebook than it was to dethrone MySpace.

    Furthermore, I find it highly annoying as a user, as well as definitely risky from a business perspective, to be exposed to the currently leading social nets' attempts to copy or integrate with core features of a different network with a different purpose.

    An example would be status updates which are posted simultaneously to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Unless the user's thoughtfulness prevails, you end up with Twitter streams in your Facebook news feed, and even worse, on your LinkedIn home page.

    Since a) the social networks encourage multi-posting, b) many users do not seem to think much about their posts, and c) the message-receiving user only has insufficient options to customize their stream, I find myself unfriending friends and unlinking connections, to preserve the distinctly different experiences and purposes those different networks should service.

    Judging from the reaction to a disgruntled status update to this end on LinkedIn, others seem to feel the same way.

    http://twitter.com/Britta_SF

  5. Chris Kieff from 1 Good Reason, July 1, 2010 at 9:43 a.m.

    Catherine,
    Excellent points! Back in March I wrote about Google's continued social media failures in my blog: http://www.1goodreason.com/blog/2010/03/30/whats-that-sound/

    It seems that Google can't get over the social media itch, and can't seem to figure out how to make it simple and compelling. Thanks for the insights.
    Chris

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