Google (GOOG) Might Have A Shot At Social After All

avatar By: IS
Date posted: 08.03.2011 (5:00 am) | Write a Comment  (3 Comments)

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Wow, who would have thought? In the past few years, Google had grown increasingly scared and maybe even paranoid about Facebook, its growing power and how it would end up impacting Google. When Larry Page decided to get back in charge of the company, he made it very clear that social was his #1 priority, and that the success of the company would largely be viewed on its success in social. We knew that Google was working on some type of solution but that was nothing new given all of the recent product launches (Orkut, Wave, etc). All of those had failed miserably so there was little confidence in the fact that Google could come up with a good product. Most Google believers thought that at some point the company would cave in and acquire a player such as Twitter. How successful has Google+’s launch been? It has already gained 20M members within a few weeks, much faster than any other social product.

-Why it matters

So why did the company become obsessed with Facebook and with social in general? How did it become so critical? There are many different reasons but I think these were mostly defensive reasons. Google currently more or less controls the web. Users from around the world connect to the web and go through Google as their initial destination. Why? Because Google can help them find specific products and since it crawls the web, it it the best way to find anything that you could be looking for. Or it used to be. As users have started using Facebook, the way the web is used has started changing. If users are sharing links and information with their social network and that those networks are closed to crawlers such as Google, it’s safe to say that the web is becoming a much more closed place. That not only makes Google less useful but also takes away to some extent its central role. If Facebook knows users, what they like, who they know, what they’re doing, etc… more than Google, it could become better at targetting ads and a better platform for advertisers. That is what Google has been trying to avoid.

-How Facebook screwed up (apps)

To many, including yours truly, it seemed (and still does seem) as if Facebook facing any type of competition was extremely unlikely at best. Why? There are many hurdles for anyone even considering building a large and broad social network with any type of reach comparable to Facebook. All of that being said, Facebook did make a few mistakes that have helped Google have a shot. For example, Facebook has been unable to efficiently manage privacy issues and the fact that few people want to share the same items and photos with their college friends as they do with their family and co-workers. Another huge gap that is difficult to understand is Facebook’s slowness in releasing apps for the exploding mobile scene. How is it that the top social network still to this day does not have a functional Ipad app? It’s a major mistake and one that Google seems to be going after.

-Spectacular Start

To be sure, Google+ has seen an incredible excitement towards its products and the 20 million users that have already signed up are probably well beyond Google’s hopes when the launch was made. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that there have been no public mistakes or errors despite all of the quick growth. Almost all critics agree that Google+ is a great product and has at least a shot at competing with Facebook.

-It’s Still An Uphill Battle

All of that being said, those calling Google+ a Facebook alternative and a success already are too early. Reaching 20M users is impressive but when you are simply using current Google users and signing them up after an easy 2 minute sign-up, that does not necessarily equal commitment. I’d be curious to hear how much time those users are spending on Google+. I’m one of those members and while I did sign up, I’ve never spent more than a couple of minutes on the network simply because at this point there is little going on among my friends and contacts. That could very well change but getting members to rebuild their network on Google+ when it exists and works well on Facebook will not be easy to pull off.

-Both Can Coexist

I think that one of the most overlooked things is that both could and probably will co-exist. Google+ is not a Facebook killer as Twitter isn’t. They are likely to have many of the same users and those will simply have one more website to visit. I don’t see a day for now where users start quitting Facebook to stay on Google+. It could happen but nothing indicates that it will at this point.If that occurs and Google+ becomes one of the “main social networks”, I think the initiative will have to be considered a major success. It was an uphill battle and Google seems to have a shot which is incredibly in itself.

-Benefits

What type of benefits can Google hope and count on if Google+ success keeps up? I would expect the main one to be for Google to remain at the center of the web and get an even greater understanding of its users, what they like, what they are interested in, etc. This will also help Google offer more customized offerings to its users both on the web, through Chrome, Android, apps, etc. It will also fit well within the strategy of offering voice and video chats, interactions with friends and family, etc. One other great benefit would be to gain a deeper integration of advertisers. Facebook gains so much through the presence of those brands that build Facebook pages, produces content, interacts with fans and even pays advertising dollars to promote their Facebook pages. There is incredible upside at little to no cost for Facebook and I expect Google to try to get a piece of that pie as it tries to offer the most complete advertising offerings available.

What are your thoughts on Google’s social strategy and its chances against Facebook?

 

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3 Comments

  1. Comment by Zavi — August 4, 2011 @ 1:38 pm
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    Great post! The G+ project, launched on June 28, has now over 25M members, according to a report from Web tracking firm comScore!!! That’s incredible!!! Guess the strategy is working quite well. I think that the main advantage is that Google is using an extraordinary platform to join people!

    You should add Mark Zuckerberg to your circle of friends!! Because he’s on G+ hehehe

    I’m on G+ and I really like the concept of circles. You can maintain your privacy by separating circles of contacts that are friends, family, work friends, former workers, acquaintances, etc. With these groups or circles I can define who gets to see what kind of updates or pictures :)

  2. Comment by IS — August 4, 2011 @ 7:42 pm
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    @Zavi – Haha, yes, very promising start, no doubt about it:) I will try adding Zuckerberg, not sure how it works, if I need a permission, etc:)

  3. Comment by Bret @ Hope to Prosper — August 8, 2011 @ 1:18 pm
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    I haven’t joined Google+ yet, because I simply haven’t had the time. I really like the circles feature and some of the other improvements. It’s no surprise that Google+ generated 25M new users, since they were invited from current Google account holders. What will be important is if Google+ can gain the critical mass to grow to an international powerhouse, like Facebook. I don’t see a lot of opportunties for smaller players in this niche.

    I think Google’s business strategy and execution were sound in creating G+. And, it has a much better name than Google Buzz (What was somebody smoking?). I don’t believe it comes from a fear of Facebook nearly as much as the opportunity for future revenue. Google has been able to leverage it’s huge suite of products, which keeps it from being dependent on search revenue. G+ should add a solid future revenue stream, if enough people join.

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