Google was built on search. It was not built on social. And, to thrive in the space, you have to have social running through your veins.
But, in their fight for social relevance, they will force the other players to play fair. So, thanks, Google!
Google is still driven by search. Despite years of trying to diversify revenue, and billions of dollars in talent and acquisitions, more than 97% of 2009 and 2008 revenue came from their advertising platforms. Now, that’s OK – there is nothing wrong with having a great concept, executed well, billions of times. McDonald’s has done pretty well with that model.
But, if you are an engineer that is great at micro-testing algorithms that improve search results for 1 in every 1,000 users, then you have a certain disposition. And that disposition is not going to make you successful in creating a compelling social product.
As evidence, I offer up the graveyard of Google’s previous social efforts:
Jaiku: purchased by Google in 2007, this was a Twitter competitor. After being abandoned by Google in January 2009, Jaiku has 30-60k uniques per month. Twitter has about 21M ( on twitter.com).
Orkut: released by Google in 2004, Orkut currently gets 750k uniques per month (almost all international). Facebook has, well, gazillions of uniques (the blue line at the bottom is the Google service).
Dodgeball: Google was well ahead with this location-based service, purchased in 2005. It was shuttered in 2009, after the founder quit to create Foursquare.
In addition to the Dodgeball team getting fed up, there are others who have left Google to do more social things. If you have social in your DNA, and you are at Google, you quickly become an ex-Googler. Evan Williams is one example. Evan sold Blogger to Google in the spring of 2003. Then, he left Google after 18 months. Why? Because he is a social coder. He created a podcast company. Then he created Twitter.
Chris Wetherell is another good example. When he was at Google, he created Google Reader. Then, he left to start Thing Labs, which has Brizzly, a social network aggregator. Brizzly is built on the premise of social.
Google has a lot of products in long-stage betas. This is generally a good thing, because you get a lot of iterative changes. But, to integrate all of those products in a social way requires strategic direction from very high in the company. And, again, we get back to the problem of whether social runs in their veins.
The good news in all of this is that Google will not stop pushing. They will keep trying, and in their pursuit of social adoption, they will create a bulwark against Facebook/Microsoft to bolster against the most egregious of privacy violations. They will keep reminding users that there might be other alternatives to Facebook (so, please keep checking back with Google!).
And, the bottom line is that they will be no worse for the wear. In fact, they don’t have a choice but to continue trying to pursue a social strategy, because Facebook is doing its damnedest to encroach in search. So, they have to defend their territory. And that means they will keep trying to get it right.