Report: Google’s Social Efforts Slowed By Infighting

I’d like to go through Nicholas Carson’s piece for SAI/Business Insider, entitled Google’s Facebook-Killer Slowed By Political Infighting bit-by-bit, because there’s quite a bit of good stuff that I can’t just comment on in blanket format.  Here goes.

It begins:

Google is terrified of Facebook, but it’s having a hard time getting its act together to do anything about it.

You’ve probably read reports that Google is working on a Facebook-killer – some kind of “social layer” that will fit over all its products.  At various points this project has been described in the press as Google Me, +1, and Google Games.  Google acquired SocialDeck and Angstro to bolster its engineering roster in the talent space.

‘Fitting over all its products’ is the core problem.  It’s hard enough to build a successful social platform from the ground up (just ask Plaxo), but it’s exponentially harder to try and do it as a tack-on to your core competency, which in this case is search-driven advertising.

The problem, we hear from people close to the company and others who used to work there, is that these various projects do exist – and not as one coherent strategy.

Because the company wasn’t built on social.  It was built on search and ad revenue, and everything Google has done (and is doing) should be looked at through that lens.

Other nibbles of information we’ve heard about what Google is working on point to more confusion.

“They don’t know what they want,” a source close to someone Google tried to hire for its social team tells us.

Google knows what it wants: to beat – or at least compete with — Facebook.  Problem is, they have no idea how to get there.  The infighting comes from current divisions trying to move in a new direction while protecting their organizational capital and turf.  The talking point agenda is one thing; the behavioral is another.

Likewise, a source at a company Google recently tried to buy told us one big reason he turned down Google’s offer is that Google wanted to integrate the startup’s team into its social project, but didn’t know who the people at this acquired startup would be reporting to or how its technology would be used.

Smells like Groupon to me.  Just a guess.  (The social/crowdsourcing aspect of Groupon is its core differentiator.  It’s the reason, in my opinion, Google was interested in them in the first place.)

Finally, another Valley source told us: “It’s called +1.  It sucks.”

Awful name.  The source is correct.

What scares Google about Twitter and Facebook is that people are using them to share links, “like” web pages, and favorite tweets. People are using Twitter and Facebook to say what they think are the most important things on the Internet.

Because Twitter and Facebook are black boxes Google can’t crawl, it no longer has access to anything close to 100% of the best meta-data available for sorting and organizing the Internet.

This gets to the crux of it.  Before Facebook and Twitter, Google used to be able to index and quantify all the metadata about web pages, which it then fed into PageRank, an algorithm that ranks pages higher or lower depending on the number of links directed at a given page.  (Similar to the way academic papers are elevated in status when other papers cite them as an expert source.)  It then offered very strong (even personalized) search results throughout its products.  Search was the way to get around the web.

Now, Facebook and Twitter are driving immense traffic to certain destinations, and Google can’t see the mechanizations of these platforms.  It can’t feed this traffic direction into its current algorithms, and most importantly, it can’t monetize it via advertising.

This is a direct threat to Google’s core operating principle.

Google doesn’t have that data and at from it’s very highest levels on down, the company is worried that its search will slowly become a less important tool for navigating the Internet.



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