What Google Me Needs To Succeed

It is interesting how the technology news industry works. Most of the time we see a lot of reprints of press releases, but recently we saw a ton of posts due to a single Twitter update. Kevin Rose dropped a rumor, and every major tech blog has covered it. Is Google Me for real? Is Google really going after Facebook? Yes, and yes, and you should have assumed it to be true anyway. Facebook is making a ton of money and their only major revenue stream is advertising. Google must be drooling over the potential revenue.

As we have seen during the amazing rise of Facebook, many other social networks have stagnated, died or changed directions. Google’s Orkut is just one example, MySpace is another. So, what makes this time any different? Now, people know what works. People know what keeps people engaged on social networks. The social components of the web have evolved as well.

So, what does Google need to do to make their rumored foray into social networking succeed? Not surprisingly, there are already several opinions about this. The Next Web has two ideas. First, they think that it should be a combination of Orkut and Buzz. The second thing they mention is that Google should not target Facebook, but target LinkedIn. Taking a business-oriented approach is a good idea, mainly because Facebook is heavily targeted towards casual usage and informal conversations. However, going completely business-oriented would be a mistake because it would be limiting the potential user population.

First, what features does Google Me require?

  • Simple connection building, including autodiscovery of connections using various email and social network accounts. Some people will initially be upset by this, but every other network already does this.
  • Deep integration of Google Buzz. Buzz is the FriendFeed clone that would work perfectly as the sharing technology of choice. It does more than Twitter, and it is getting easier to use. It is also very similar to Facebook’s current stream.
  • Deep integration of Google Profiles. The profiles that Google have built are quite informative and extensive. They can quickly be cleaned up to be a solid social network profile page.
  • Integration of Google Places. Inclusion of Google Places, previously known as Local Business Center, would be a huge bonus for small businesses. It would make Google Me leap ahead of Facebook’s business offerings.
  • APIs from Orkut. Orkut may not be a popular social network, but it does have a solid set of APIs and it is based on OpenSocial.
  • Simple Application Platform. Steal this idea from Facebook as it is core to their success. The widgets scattered in various Google applications have not really been adopted, but Facebook hit a home run with their platform.
  • Integration of Google Analytics. I am not talking about the complete suite of reports, but having some level of basic statistics, even for profile views, would be a good idea. People could track every page view, every link click and quickly gather some social metrics this way.

Also important is what to omit. TechCrunch has an excellent opinion on this:

What Google shouldn’t do – must not do – is try to tie the service to other Google products for the wrong reasons. Microsoft’s web properties are constantly hobbled by the strategic decisions of a parent company that must protect an aging Windows and Office revenue stream, for example. Google must avoid that pitfall.

As an example, there is no reason to hook in Google Docs. People do not want an office suite in their social network yet. This is especially true when you first launch. Also, GMail should remain a separate service in the beginning. Let people sign up with an email service of their choice, with the address being hidden. You can allow people to send messages to each other and send everything to their preferred email address. Eventually, you can bake email into the network, but do not shove it down people’s throats at the beginning. Google Reader should not be integrated, except for the integration it has with Buzz. Trying to make a social network the only site a person visits is a quick way to fail. Picasa can be avoided initially as well. Why? Because you need to find a good way to integrate Picasa and Flickr without being too Google-centric. YouTube does not need to be integrated either as long as people can share links.

[UPDATE] Somehow I forgot about Google Wave, and thanks to a comment I will now include my opinion. Wave should not find its way into the initial launch of the social network. The comment mentions the main reasons as well, it is too heavy and too complicated for mainstream usage. It could be added later, and would be great for groups and collaboration but it is definitely something that should not be integrated into the main experience.

That is probably enough information for a quick overview. Are there applications that I missed that should be included? Or are there more applications that should be omitted?

Please ignore this code WSTXS88MVR99

15 thoughts on “What Google Me Needs To Succeed

  1. Integration of some sort with Wave would be a big win, IMO. Couldn’t be mandatory (Wave is too heavy and complex, and the no-IE restriction is still a problem), but for deep conversation it’s the best system around — it does what LiveJournal only aspires to.

    So having a plugin architecture, whereby posts could be Wave-enabled (inline, without all the heavy Wave cruft around it) would enable *both* casual conversation via Buzz and deep conversation via Wave. That would pretty much be my dream social-networking platform…


  2. jducoeur,

    I knew I forgot to mention something, and that was Wave. I have updated the post with my opinion on Wave, but I will say that Wave should not be included because it is too heavy and complicated.


  3. Yeah, I almost got into that. I think Google really needs to step back and figure out a more minimal version of Wave — one that includes the threading and notification models (which are what makes it so excellent for social network conversation), but doesn’t get into the deep co-editing features. The goals would be (a) an easier learning curve so that it stops intimidating people so much, and (b) a simpler Javascript implementation that actually could work on all browsers.

    You’re probably correct that Wave in its current form is too heavy for this purpose. But I do think there could be a simplified version, based on the same protocols and formats but with a much simpler front end, that could succeed here…


  4. isn’t the reason people like facebook because its an all-in-one service? I don’t know, but it seems that way to me.

    so I’m not sure about the argument of not using picasa, or youtube, or whatever. To really compete with facebook I think those need to be there, just seemless. The person wouldn’t have to think about using picasa or flikr, or youtube or vimeo, or whatever — they’d be using GoogleMe.

    I guess it boils down to is GoogleMe the place people actually do things, and its syndicated outwards if they wish — or is GoogleMe just the place all your other stuff gets syndicated to (isnt that Buzz?). I think the latter might appeal more to the tech crowd, because they have a billion services they want to bring together…but Grandma doesn’t have anything else, she’s looking for that one place that does it all. She needs everything built in and seemless, and so easy you don’t have to think about it. To compete with Facebook, GoogleMe has to be seemless all in one. It can use all these other Google services, but it needs to be hidden for the most part.


  5. rbet,

    Well, for initial launch some of these services should be kept separate. Facebook has their application platform which is how things like FriendFeed, Twitter and all of the others have their applications do stuff on Facebook. So, it is not really an all-in-one package it just looks that way.

    If Google keeps some of their services separate, they can develop the social network core first and not be concerned how YouTube fits in. They just need to have a way to plug in other applications for easy extensibility.


  6. I’m not saying you don’t need to allow those hooks in — I’m saying it does need a default state to mindlessly do these things from day 1 from inside GoogleMe. Maybe its a question of semantics, I’m not arguing a lock-in, I’m arguing for a default.

    Buried in the settings you can give people all sorts of other nice, friendly options for bringing stuff in, or syndicating stuff out, for the people that do care — but people need to be able to do everything without having to have any other account, without even knowing other accounts exist. I don’t see how that can be done without leveraging picasa, youtube, google chat, etc, for the backend as defaults. I think it’s impossible to serve the service “GoogleMe” well while trying to serve every other service on equal footing, it’s not actually a good user experience for most people.

    All most of the 500 million people want is someone to make this easy for them. That’s it.


  7. Google already has the foundation for a social media success. They just need to implement it all together into one place and they will be successful.

    Also with the trusted brand they should have no problems getting people to try it out and maybe do a better job at managing privacy and other issues that facebook struggles with.


  8. rbet,

    Basically we seem to be agreeing for the most part, and just disagreeing on some timing. I do see your point though.


  9. Stephen

    Yes, Google does have most of the foundation in various applications, and they do just need to pull it all together. It just isn’t that easy though.

    They do have a trusted brand, and they will get a ton of people trying it out. However, Google has had privacy concerns of their own in the past, so we can only hope they will do a better job this time.


  10. Everyone is talking about the features and functions.

    I think this is a BIG mistake. I posted about it yesterday. Social networking has entered the mature phase of the product or business life cycle. There are few “new” users for Google to go get. Only late majority or laggards are left. Google will have to get users to switch and the problem with that is the value of a social network IS the network.

    No one is going to leave Facebook for a Google Me when none of their friends are there and they’ve got so much invested in FB.

    The value of FB is the network. Google can’t control that so the value they bring is VERY low. No amount of “technology” or features and functions will change that.

    My thoughts on this: http://bit.ly/bGzHtA


  11. Keenan

    I understand what you are saying, but I think a lot of people (including myself) are assuming that when Google Me goes live many people will be members of the network. The main assumption is that people using Google accounts in some way, GMail, Reader or anything else, will be automatically added as well as all of their contacts being linked or prompted to be linked.

    To your point, if Google builds something but does not automatically add users based on things like GMail, it will fail. As you said, in that case there is no reason to leave Facebook.


  12. Google is on the wrong path if they target LinkedIn as a style for GoogleMe. Facebook is the model they should use. LinkedIn is pretty stagnant as far as I am concerned. Meanwhile Facebook continues to grow no matter what is said about it’s security and privacy of information. It’s those damned game applications in my experience. I can’t ever login in there without having a dozen or so invitations to join and requests to send cows and etc. Most come from relatives I hardly see otherwise. Anyway, GoogleMe should be geared down to the masses rather than geared to the professional types who want to connect socially in a professional way. If they design GoogleMe for the casual user they could have a real winner and competetion for Facebook in reality.


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