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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.

The company is using big bucks to think small -- telling cousin Jeb about +1 isn't a strategy for beating Facebook.

It will make public what Google executives think of Google's own products. Here's what's going to happen next year. Google will probably be in more or less the same social boat it's in right now. Facebook will still dominate the social scene, and Google will still be trying too hard to compete. Executives will want to emphasize the positive to the press, investors and users. What are they going to do?

If they pay out big bucks for success, investors will say: "Really? That's your idea of success?" If they dock workers for failure, critics like me will say things like, "Even Google hates their own social services."

Page's edict sets Google up for a public relations black eye one way or the other. I'm not sure they've thought this through.

Here's what Larry should do

Google has a real chance to beat Facebook at social networking. No, I'm serious! The company is actually much closer than people realize.

Google already has all or most of the pieces needed to dominate: Profiles, Buzz, +1, Contacts, Calendar, Gmail, Search, Picasa, Talk, AdSense, Checkout, Jaiku, Latitude and others.

Google already has a gazillion "members." The only problems are that they don't know they're members and they have nowhere to go.

If Page is going to mandate success in social, he'll need a three-pronged strategy:

1. Build a dedicated site where it all comes together like Facebook. The dedicated site would not be instead of social features everywhere, but in addition to them. Imagine Facebook, but where your existing Talk account is the "Chat" feature. Your Gmail account is the "Messaging" feature. Latitude is "Places." Buzz is your "Wall." Profiles is your "Profile." And so on.

2. Make social features outside the social networking site a choice that can be easily turned on or off. Stop jamming social down our throats. Make it passively optional for those who want it but invisible to those who don't. Don't fix what isn't broken with the "social" solution.

3. Hammer away at Facebook's vulnerabilities, which are privacy, transparency and spam. If Google's social network was extremely good at letting you know and control what you're sharing and what you're not sharing, new users would come flooding in. And don't let anyone spam your Wall with invitations, promotions and other junk.

Page is only one week into his new job, and already he's made a huge mistake. It's still not too late for Google to dominate social networking. But first it need to understand it.


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