(New Note on October 2018: And now Google announces what we knew all along – user engagement on Google+ is low and they’re shutting down the consumer version.

Note on November 2015: Turns out, I was right back in 2011 when I wrote this…)

In thinking about Eric Schmidt’s remarks this week at D9, I’ve got to say that Google seems to still be completely blind to the real issue behind their lack of success in being social.  And it’s not because Eric Schmidt forgot or got sidetracked.  The reason has more to do with core competencies of companies based on their foundational beginnings and their original value.

Google has always created value by serving up search results that hit the spot, delight us, and get us ready to buy.  That comes from a deep focus and expertise on ferreting out the algorithm that connects the need behind our wording, what’s available on the web, how it’s described, and what might not be said but what’s actually in our minds.  Google has created a form of artificial intelligence that is predictive, reactive, learned, and synthesized.  They bring together our search history, where we are, the words we enter, in what context those words often occur, the psychology of how that relates to what is on the web, and, of course, how websites portray themselves.

Facebook, on the other hand, has from the beginning created value by connecting people up – in whatever way made sense to the founders.  Connecting up for dates, friendship, whatever – but the KEY here is CONNECTION.  And everything Facebook does is about that connection: enabling, reinforcing, offering, highlighting, expanding, and so on.  All Facebook’s coding is directed towards that and now connection is what makes the money happen for Facebook.

So here is what we have:  Google’s value and focus has been to find stuff for us using the most advanced engineering possible and Facebook’s value and focus is to get us and keep us connected using their most advanced engineering possible. Google is an engineering company at heart and Facebook is a social graph company. And that is why Google doesn’t do social well – and shouldn’t focus on it.  Their core competency and the brilliance of their engineers is in doing what they do: artificial intelligence in finding the needle – or the grain of sand – in the haystack.  And that will continue to be absolutely crucial in our village gone global world.

Facebook will continue to push the bounds of connection and probably continue to not do search well – a reflection of their core competency and brilliance in social connection, not ‘finding things’ engineering.  (A note about Facebook search: internal Facebook search is still Facebook’s effort and it’s bad – I understand they use Bing for the external results and that’s not what I’m talking about – try to find a person or page when you don’t know the first word in the title or name – ugh!).

In summary, my advice to Google => continue to capitalize on your incredible core strengths and don’t squander your resources on other areas of expertise that are completely different.  My advice to Facebook => you better get clear on what you really do well – connection – and up the ante because you’ve got contenders coming along that are going to eat you alive. The moral to the story for the rest of us: be clear about your unique brilliance and stick to it – no one is everything to everyone and no business has been that for very long with any success.

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  1. Kathy Long June 2, 2011 at 3:47 am - Reply

    Well said, Kathryn. However, I will add this. Google so far has been fighting a losing battle against black hat SEOs and affiliate marketers who continually find ways to lead them astray in their attempt to only return the most relevant results. That’s because it’s not that hard to outwit algorithms. Algorithms are, after all, always predictable. (I know that will start an argument, but let’s not go there.:)

    So what’s a Google to do? I say stop relying solely on algorithms and mathematical formulas to give us what we want. Instead, let people tell us what is relevant. People are, after all, smarter, less predictable, and less likely to be fooled.

    And this is where social comes in with the Shares, the Likes, the Tweets, the bookmarks, and now Google’s +1’s. We as people can now tell Google what is relevant, what is smart, what is liked, and what is trash. And I think Google is smart in acknowledging that. 

    So, while I agree with you in that I think Google should not try to become another social site, I’m happy to see that they are becoming bedfellows with them. What they do best — which is return the articles of interest we are seeking — will only get better as a result. 

    • kagorges June 2, 2011 at 3:55 am - Reply

      You have a point, Kathy. Google’s algorithm will only get better when they get beyond themselves and integrate some crowdsourcing as in the +1’s they have now. I still believe that Google has more to offer through their incredibly deep stable of engineers — stuff we haven’t even thought of yet and it’s only going to be social because another company takes it and applies it in a social context. Google is not going to become social.

  2. Jim Coffis June 2, 2011 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    However well meaning, I don’t think Google will take your advice and here is why I think they shouldn’t:  Google’s stated mission is to  “…organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”  The amount of information that Google has organized and can make almost instantly accessible to us is enormous and ever expanding. In order for that volume of information to be “useful” requires context.  The more context, the more useful.  So when you search for weather, Google gives you local weather based on what they know via your IP address (or mobile device) about your location.  Access to our social graph is important to Google in a number of ways. They do not need to become Facebook but they need to have access to the kind of data that Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn has: our so called “social graph” and our identity.  With this information (given with our permission) they can return search results even more useful.
    One other point:  calling Facebook a “social engineering” company is not very nice.  I don’t think you meant it this way but the term “social engineering”  is more commonly associated with fraud or trickery.  

    • kagorges June 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm - Reply

      Hi Jim,

      I agree with your advice that ‘social engineering’ isn’t perhaps the best terminology — I think I’ll change that in the post as well since I had no intention of casting a negative slant. Thanks.

      Regarding Google needing the social graph to create context — I also agree they need to integrate the social actions we take to serve up ever more relevant results. However, I still think they aren’t going to be able to create the social graph that accurately reflects that. They’ll need to leverage off of something that’s already doing a good job — either Facebook or some newcomer that’s willing to partner.

      I think that even with a partner, if Google has the upper hand there will be a problem with their ‘personality’ dominating the social platform. Facebook has the freedom to create and explore the social graph tools, not limited by creating a particular result for a company like Google.

      No mistakes have been made, which is what Eric Schmidt is saying. Google has a strength and it’s not social, but they need social to continue to excel. And that’s their challenge! If I were running the company I’d do it differently — I would respect my own in house expertise and I’d respect the expertise of a potential partner and I’d form a peer relationship to the advantage of all. And I wouldn’t try to influence their social graph activities very much — acknowledging that it’s not my area of expertise.

  3. Hoka July 4, 2011 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    You’ve missed the point of Google’s long game entirely. They want a greater understanding of us as people so they can predict intent and unturned serve us better results.

    A prime example of why search results need to be tailored to us is where an expert is searching for some details about a topic and a someone who is only after a description of the experts trade.

    • kagorges July 18, 2011 at 11:29 pm - Reply

      Hi Hoka,

      Thanks for your comment.  I don’t believe I’ve missed the point of Google’s long game — I understand they want to understand so they can predict and interpret our intent.  My point is that their approach is not one based on relationship, but one based on analysis of our actions independent of others.  And I think they’re excellent at that and not so good at relationship building.  

      And now we’ll see if I’m wrong — as we watch and participate in the new phenomena of Google+ — and I’m happy to be wrong, I just don’t think I am…


  4. Kathy Long September 28, 2012 at 11:12 pm - Reply

    A year later, Kathryn, and I’m wondering if you feel the same way. I taught a Google + class last night, so I really had to delve into it to prepare. And by the end of class, the teacher (me) really taught me how fantastic that platform really is. For social, I do believe it’s better than Facebook, and for business it’s light years ahead. It’s integration of Google+ with Places, for example, was BRILLIANT. Since most everyone goes to Google to locate a business, their queries and clicks will now naturally land them on, not just a business page, but also a social site where they can connect with friends and family. It will probably start with reviews and then grow from there.  

    I belong to a Google developers group. At a meeting earlier this year I went to one of their Meetups that had a waiting list of hundreds but then were able to “attend” via a Google+ hangout. Why was this Meetup so well-attended? Because it was the night we all expected the Google+ API to be released. What does that tell you? There are hundreds, maybe thousands of developers who were chomping at the bit to get it, and now are hard at work to come up with the next great Google+ app. So, while Google’s core competency might be search, they just opened the doors to others who have other competencies to add even more. 
    I’m excited to see how this is all going to develop in the next year. I expect it to be great, and I’m  telling all my local business clients that Google+ is the place to be.  I made a pretty strong case to that effect last night, and it wasn’t hard to do, now here, a year later.

  5. kagorges November 17, 2015 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Google is now dramatically shifting Google+. You can read more here about the direction Google is taking with Google+: http://techcrunch.com/2015/11/17/meet-the-new-google/

    What’s so far being missed is the value Google+ has for small businesses. Google created a platform that could quickly and easily get small businesses some visibility in search, have a nice looking replacement for a website, and give them brand recognition for posts if they were also posted on Google+.

    The free website builders are still outsiders in organic search — they don’t create the results that a good Google+ presence did and still does right now.

    Google is missing the boat across a large number of small businesses who need this tool badly — millions — if they change the platform so much that it doesn’t fill this gap anymore.

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