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."
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.