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BLOG: Larry Page's first blunder

Mike Elgan | April 10, 2011
The Google founder is now CEO, and already he's taken a wrong turn on social networking.

People prefer Facebook to Google's many socially enabled services because Facebook is a place they can go to be social. With Google's far-flung social services, there is no "place." There is no party. Google's approach to social isn't fun.

Google's strategy of baking social into everything will never, ever beat Facebook. Google needs a social networking site. (But not Orkut.)

It's not forward-thinking. Big Ideas like blogging, Web 2.0, social bookmarking and social networking rise, crest, then fall, becoming just part of the background noise while the crowds go chasing the Next Big Thing. Social has already crested as an exciting cultural phenomenon. Yes, it will always be with us, but social will soon lose its status as Flavor of the Month. Google should be focused more on inventing what comes after social.

It focuses Google on Facebook's mission. Google's mission is to "organize the world's information." Facebook's mission is to "give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." In a way, Page's edict tells employees: "Stop working on Google's mission and start working on Facebook's."

It will incentivize employees to force social features in places where they don't belong. A team tasked with some online service should focus on making that service awesome, not wrecking it with contrived social features.

Google has already lost at least one user because of misplaced social enthusiasm. I used to be a devoted Google Reader fan. Then Buzz came along. Google made the error of tying Buzz sharing to Reader sharing. The result was that all my "friends" on Buzz also became "friends" on Reader. My tightly controlled list of RSS subscriptions became flooded with everything shared by my Buzz community. It forced me to choose between Buzz and Reader, so I dropped Reader in favor of a competing product.

Google tried so hard to make Reader social that it ruined it, at least for me. We can expect more errors like this as Googlers chase social bonus bucks.

The incentive rewards promoting something, not building something. It all smells like Microsoft's denial around Windows Vista, when that company believed user antipathy toward Vista was a marketing issue -- just a big misunderstanding.

Instead of dangling thousands of dollars in front of employees who can't do anything except spam family and friends, dangle millions in front of the developers, designers and others who can build rather than merely promote.


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