Many years ago there was a joke in techy circles that likened Microsoft to the Star Trek aliens ‘The Borg’. It appeared at the time (mid 1990s) that Microosft were indeed determined to assimilate everything they encountered and absorb the technology of other companies in to their own. Well, like the Borg in Trek, Microsoft finally found that they couldn’t assimilate everything. But today there’s a new Borg Queen on the block, in teh form of Google.
Google Buzz was launched as an adjunct to Gmail, and Google got themselves in to hot water at the launch by having the system automatically follow everyone in your Gmail contacts list. This was regarded as pretty heavy handed on Google’s part – and Google obviously concurred to some degree as they introduced changes to this part of the system. The problem for Google is that they have a lousy history of handling privacy issues in both their Search tools and Gmail, and I guess starting a new product off with a similar disregard for the perceptions of their users was not a sound move.
So, how relevant is this move by Google? I have to say that I’m not convinced that Google will actually represent major competition to Facebook or Twitter with Buzz (or, for that matter, with Wave). The lock in to Google’s infrastructure of Buzz is something that Facebook doesn’t have, for instance. I don’t have to have a Facebook email account, and I don’t do my searching through Facebook. And therein lies the problem for me – and it all comes back to Google’s database of intentions that I’ve mentioned before in this blog. The more Google can derive about the way in which people use Search, who they interact with, what ‘clusters’ of interests people have – even anonymously – the more value Google’s database of intention is. You might want to take a look at some of my previous articles about Google – Google and The Dead Past, The importance of Real Time Search and Google seeks browser dominance – to get a feel for my views on Google. Google’s strategic moves have been consistently to get Google’s search into everything we do. Gmail was their first crack at this with personal communications, and now with Wave and Buzz they have the tools to map social networks, and the search behaviours of people on those social networks, especially if people remain logged in to Google accounts whilst the do their searching.
Let’s pretend…..you are logged in to your Buzz account and you search for something. Google can link your search interests to those of the people in your social network, and vice versa. They can thus add the collective behaviour of your searches to their database of intentions – remember what I said about the Borg? 🙂 And we’re not even thinking about the additional data provided by Google Apps…
Google are also purchasing a ‘Social Search’ tool that allows people to ask questions of their social groups; I think we can safely assume that the responses will be squirreled away somewhere for future use.
Even when anonymised, this sort of information builds in to a very valuable commodity that Google can sell to future ‘partners’. Google’s behaviour at the moment seems to be to develop or acquire a series of discrete elements of Social Networking technology that they’re bringing together under the existing account system of Gmail / Google Accounts, which makes perfect sense. At one time Microsoft filled in some of the gaps in their various offerings in a similar way to allow them access to market segments that they were still trying to penetrate. Perhaps Google have learnt from the software behemoth.
But they have a way to go – here are what I consider Google’s biggest challenges.
- The attitude of the public towards Google is not entirely positive, and whilst Facebook have had numerous privacy problems their defined market presence in Social Networking and not in Social Networking, Search, Email, Productivity tools, kitchen sink manufacture, etc.
- Facebook may easily lose market share to a good competing service; their constant re-vamping of User Interface and buggy code upsets users but at the moment there is no viable competation for most people as Facebook is where their social network is. Google would have to get people to migrate en-masse and over a short period of time to get the sort of success FB show.
- Wave is certainly buggy; Gmail and Buzz are designed to not run on IE6 and it’s debatable how long Google will support other Microsoft Browsers – I wonder how many people would want themselves tied in to Google at the level of software as well as applications? Like I said earlier – Facebook doesn’t require me to have a Facebook email address.
- What’s Google’s target market; Wave seemed to be a solution looking for a problem; Buzz seems to be a similar ‘half way house’ affair that in some ways would have been best placed in Wave. Twitter and Facebook tend to provide specific groups of users with a defined user experience and functionality. Quite what Buzz and Wave and Gmail together provide that isn’t available elsewhere is not clear to me.
So….my thoughts? If this is Google’s attempt to park their tanks on Facebook’s lawn, then they’ve invoked the ‘Fail Whale’.