Orkut. Used it? I did back in 2002, but since then? No one I know uses it.
Jaiku. Used it? I did back in 2006, but since then? No one I know uses it.
Dodgeball. Used it? I did back in 2006, but since then? No one I know uses it.
These are just a few of the failures Google has had trying to figure out the social space.
Tomorrow they’ve invited a ton of journalists to see a new social effort. The headline on top of Techmeme screams “Twitter killer.”
Um, I’ve learned in life that past behavior is the best predictor of future results.
So, why is Google going to succeed THIS time when its past experiences into social networking have failed and failed miserably?
I’ve identified a few:
1. This time they built everything in house. All the efforts above were purchased companies that were bolted onto existing infrastructure. This time? Look at the foundational pieces that Google has put in place. Google Profiles lets you enter the social networks you’re on. Check out mine, I’ve told it more already about myself than I’ve told Facebook. Then take a look at Google’s Social Circles. Social Circles is a clue that Google is studying ALL social networks, not just Facebook and Twitter. Some of my friends’ entries there have hundreds of websites and social networks listed there. It’ll be very interesting to see what Google does with those tomorrow. Hopefully a feed like FriendFeed had, along with real time search that’s filterable.
2. Employees on board. In 2006 whenever I talked with a Google employee about social stuff like Twitter or Facebook they’d turn their noses and say something derogatory. “That’s lame,” is what I heard over and over. It was clear that the rank and file Google employee just didn’t think Twitter or Facebook would ever challenge Google in any real way. I haven’t heard that attitude for quite a while now. You just have to look at Compete.com for why.
3. Mobile has made social more important. Look at the average mobile phone ad in the United States. A good percentage of them mention both Twitter and Facebook. Google can’t ignore this fact, especially now that Google is pushing Android on small devices and Chrome OS on bigger ones. Google knows that carriers see social networks as important things to push, so if Google can bring something new and interesting that will get people and brands to even talk about switching from Facebook or Twitter, it will be interesting to watch. Look for Google Contacts to add much better integration with all of the social networks that Google’s Social Circles algorithms are collecting. Yes, Palm got there first, but Palm doesn’t really matter, so look for Google to exploit that fact with really deep integration with contacts.
4. Twitter looks attackable. For the past few months we’ve all been watching Twitter’s engagement, traffic, and new feature releases. So far Twitter just hasn’t stepped up to the plate and lifted the drawbridge off of the moat surrounding their castle. Yes, Twitter is the best place now to find real time news, look at my list of world news brands for a great example of that. It’s also the best place to follow companies in real time, look at Dominic Jones’ list of 499 public companies for a great example of that. But look deeper and you’ll see a limping Twitter. Engagement just hasn’t taken off for a whole lot of reasons (let’s be honest, most people come to Twitter looking for celebrities, but look at Listorious’ list of Twittering celebrities done by Pete Cashmore and you’ll just see mostly lame tweets that don’t hook users much at all). I can see a whole lot of ways to beat Twitter, and if me and others, like Dave Winer can see ways that Twitter is beatable, then so can the engineers at Google.
5. Normal users are hungry. Normal users I talk to have now figured out Facebook. Most have played with Twitter and found it lacking, they tell me, but they are interested in other uses of social networking now. The market is primed for a new service to come along that shows us something new. Will Google deliver that tomorrow? Well, we only have a few hours to wait. But there is a latent unsatisfied interest, especially because Facebook has made its privacy stance confusing with its founder saying that we are in a post privacy world.
6. Location-based services are gathering attention. Well, at least they are being adopted by early adopters and, thanks to deals with TV networks and others, Foursquare, at least, is starting to move out of the early-adopter echo chamber and into the mainstream. Even Yelp has copied Foursquare’s “check in” metaphor and has primed the market for Google to come in and demonstrate some real leadership here. Interesting to note that Google Latitude has largely failed too when compared to the smaller upstarts. Will Google turn around its failures here?
7. Google HAS won in video and done fairly well in blogging. YouTube is a huge adoption success, even if it hasn’t yet made Google much money. That said, most of my friends are noticing that more and more users are coming into YouTube (indeed, even I’ve switched much of my video publishing to my channel there and I’m seeing strong subscriber and engagement growth). While services like Redux or Tweetmeme show you just videos that have been shared on Twitter and Facebook, look for Google to build on this strength.
8. Google has the best email and collaboration suite users. Whenever I speak at a conference of early adopters most people say they are now using Google Mail. That’s huge because these early adopters are the types that are willing to try new things and, better yet, are willing to tell their friends how cool they are. Look at how Google Wave — despite a crappy user interface — became very popular very quickly. Why? Because of this army of early adopters. See, email users are NOT all equal. Next time you are on a plane, look around you. Is the guy who is using Outlook 2003 using anything else that’s bleeding edge? Not very likely. Now look at the Gmail users, they are more likely to have a bleeding edge mobile phone, they are more likely to have a Windows 7 or Macintosh laptop. They are more likely to try things. They are more valuable because of that and is why Yahoo or Microsoft never were really able to capitalize on their hundreds of millions of email customers. Plus, look how Google integrated Docs and Spreadsheets into Gmail. Look for them to do the same thing with their social network efforts. It’ll be nuanced and addictive. If I were Gist or Xobni you bet I’d be worried about what’s coming tomorrow.
Anyway, this is all a long way of me saying that don’t expect Google to keep failing at this social networking thing. Its past behavior is NOT a predictor of what’s coming tomorrow.