Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Google should give up on social

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Summary: Google launches the Google +1 button in order to participate in the social media landscape, but are they wasting their time?

It’s clear that Zuckerberg sits on top of something that other leading companies want and they want it bad. After all, who wouldn’t want to get a piece of an almost billion person pie that is superbly ripe for monetized business and contextual marketing?

Last year, Steve Jobs tried his hand getting into the social/sharing game by infusing Ping into the iTunes offering. Jobs and Zuckerberg tried to get cozy over dinner early on but after eighteen months of trying to strike a technology partnership, it fizzled. Apple claimed that Facebook insisted on “onerous terms that we could not agree to” so they launched Ping without a Facebook tie-in. The Facebook/Apple relationship was further strained when Apple attempted to install Facebook’s public “Connect” login interface without inking a deal with Facebook first, so Facebook blocked them. After Ping’s launch, it never really took off. Why? Well, for a couple reasons. First off, we were already sharing music in a more open environment with sites like Blip.fm, which of course plugged right on into our Facebook and Twitter accounts no problem. Second, no one cares about Ping. Social media is based on a premise that goes against everything Apple’s business is about - sharing and openness. Why would the social media population adopt a social effort by a company that is already known for putting guard rails on everything in their ecosystem so that you do everything you do online but only on Apple’s terms?

Apple isn’t the only frustrated behemoth.

Google tries again with Google +1.

With the latest push of Google +1, Google’s own version of a “Like” button and their third attempt (remember Buzz and Orkut?)at riding the social media wave (pun intended), it’s clear that Google is still an engineering-centric company in their approach. They’re known for having some of the most intelligent brains behind what they do but their philosophy has always been “algorithm is king.” This is why Google is amazing at search. Algorithms are in their DNA. The problem they face with social network customers is that while Facebook’s backend might run on algorithms, its customers and the social media culture don’t.

Here’s why I think Google’s social efforts are gonna matter about as much Apple’s Ping did in social media:

1. The people have chosen their platforms. The mainstream isn’t interested in, nor has the time, to maintain multiple networks. Almost a billion people worldwide on are Facebook. Every new generation that comes online starts with their first email address and then signs up for Facebook. It was one of the highest priorities for my teenagers to get an account and they pushed me every month until they were 13 when I could legally cave. Just like the Starbucks appeal with a bazillion locations always packed with people looking for the same coffee experience over and over, people use Facebook so much that it has essentially defined what the social network experience should be.

2. People don’t want multiple “Like” buttons. If Google was really smart, they would’ve partnered with Facebook to allow Facebook’s own Like buttons to be part of Google search results instead of using their own. I think it actually would’ve worked out amazingly for both Facebook and Google. It could’ve been seamless AND familiar for content consumers and would have resulted in much more overlap traffic-wise for Google. Facebook is currently bedding with Microsoft/Bing though for their “web results” within their search results template so maybe the Google/Facebook love fest wasn’t possible to begin with. Honestly, I never click on Like-esque buttons that aren’t Facebook because the result of that action doesn’t go anywhere since all of my friends, family and business networking constituents are all on Facebook! If I “Like” a blog post on the Disqus network for instance, using their proprietary “Like” tab, no one but Disqus and those on the Disqus network really see what it is I liked unless I follow through with the two additional steps during the “Would you like to share” process in their widget to publish to Facebook or Twitter, hence my point.

3. Stick with what you know. Successful companies should avoid getting into online spaces that others already clearly own and are better at. Apple makes premium consumer technology products that work amazingly and integrate with our personal lives better than almost any other. Google is the master at search, having hired the world’s top engineers and data/behavioral scientists. Apple and Google should just stick to those and they’ll be fine.

Apple and Microsoft meet the personal computing needs of the people. Google and Bing meet the search needs of the people. Facebook and Twitter meet the online social needs of the people.

Let’s keep it that way.

Also check out…

The official Google +1 video on YouTube

Rich Harris has been a web marketer for over 10 years, with over 14 years experience in high-tech, both in the consumer and enterprise spaces.


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