Can Google Me Succeed?

(Ping! Zine Issue 40) – When we think about Google we don’t immediately think social networking. Nor do we even associate Google with any form of success in that space considering their three failures Orkut, Profiles, and Buzz. Google’s attempts so far, though technically equal to such networks as Facebook, miss the mark when it comes to offering consumers an easy to use interface. As an advertising giant, Google has a lot to gain from starting up a powerful social network. The question is can they after three failed attempts?

To begin, Google must identify the weaknesses and strengths of their top competitors. In this case that would be Facebook and to a lesser extent LinkedIn. This stage Google has already done (I would say probably has done, but honestly, there is no reason why Google wouldn’t have thoroughly analyzed the competition; if they haven’t Google Me fails before it begins). If they have done their homework they will notice the following things:

Strengths
· Huge population, if you want to find someone you go to Facebook
· Lots of things to help you waste time (such as social games)
· The use of recommendations and likes helps bring in business users
· Extremely easy to use

Weaknesses
· People searching is laughable
· Contact management can use a lot of work
· Friend Lists are not truly compartmentalized
· Security/Privacy is horrid
· Lack of customization

Interestingly enough, a lot of what Google does meshes with these strengths and weaknesses. One of their largest stumbling blocks to date has been a lack of user friendliness. The second largest problem has been population…, which when you think about it makes very little sense since Google is the second most visited place on the Internet. Through integration of some of their current services and the addition of a powerful search tool, Google should be able to wipe out any other social network.

Social networks have been locked in a unique moment in time and I don’t think I am being too presumptuous to think that this hasn’t escaped the notice of Google. If we step back for a moment and take in social networks for what they are as a whole instead of locked on the details, we can see a brief moment in history roughly 15 years ago.

What is the killer app for Facebook? The ability to find people and network with old friends and new colleagues is probably what makes Facebook so largely popular and this continues to add more people into the network who then make it all the more easier to find people. However, Facebook is missing a key ingredient to make that killer app shine and that is a proper search.

15 years ago we had several search engines, which were considered record breaking. Lycos for instance had hit a milestone by indexing 390,000 pages. This was monumental. No one had ever done that before, it made headlines everywhere, Lycos’ search engine was huge. Two years after Lycos’ “record” the school project called Google indexed 60 million pages. Like the social networks of today, the search engine space was defined poorly with companies only going half way and thinking this is the maximum limit. When Google came along, the company showed everyone that not only did they not understand the search engine space, but that none of the competition understood how to take advantage of the search engine market.

Today we have social networks that do quite well. Businesses are even beginning to finally “get it” and jump on-board with at least some enthusiasm, but honestly what we see today is nowhere near what social networking can become and I think that Google has the opportunity to redefine social networks like they did with the search engine market.

Google’s Playbook According to Me
· Google Must…. Make the interface simple and easy to use by anyone.
· Google Must…. Get in good with game companies (oh wait they are already doing this).
· Google Must…. Allow users to easily separate friends, family, and business contacts .
· Google Must…. Allow users to separate apps completely from contact lists (games with friends, collaboration apps with peers, etc).
· Google Must…. Use their search engine talents to create a network that is easily searchable and navigatable and leverage their current search engine to increase the user base.
· Google Must…. Allow contact syncing with email clients and create API hooks.
· Google Should…. Integrate Google Calendars.
· Google Should…. Create easy to use privacy controls.
· Google Should…. Adopt a strong security policy.
· Google Should…. Allow some level of customization over a user’s own homepage.
· Google Should…. Provide third-party app integration.

If Google is finally getting serious about building a social network they need to be able to use their own past successes and failures and those of their rivals. They should ensure that they add games AND business tools for increased stickiness and usability. Quite honestly, for Google Me to be a strong, industry defining success, they should build it as if they were building a control panel for the Internet. If Google does that, then I think Google Me will win the social networking race, hands down.

Writer’s Bio: David Dunlap has been both a Web host industry analyst and commentator for the past eight years. Prior to his active writing career, David was a network and communications technician for four years. He currently is the Reviews Editor for WebHostMagazine.com

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