Oooh, shock horror, there’s been a leak! Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, tweeted this little nugget on Saturday night…
“Ok, umm, huge rumor: Google to launch facebook competitor very soon “Google Me”, very credible source”
…which then got retweeted to oblivion and prompted a flurry of speculation over a new attempt by Google to take on the twin social networking giants of Facebook and Twitter, perhaps as a reaction to Facebook’s intention to launch a new Open Graph Search Engine – a real contender to rival Google’s pole position in the online world. FB founder, Mark Zuckerberg has predicted the distinct possibility of Facebook’s user population hitting 1 billion once it has hooked in those pesky avoiders in Japan and Russia (China is on its way, apparently, despite government bans, with an estimated 92% of Chinese ‘netizens’ using social media).
Remember Google Wave? Orkut? Buzz? Hmm, us neither. At least, the endeavors have yet to take off in quite the same all-encompassing manner that Facebook or Twitter have. Oh sure, I have a Buzz account, but, ahem, no one else I know does. So who am I meant to network with? For me, at least, it’s no more enticing than the Yahoo! mail prompts that ask repeatedly, “what are you doing right now?” – gosh, just leave me alone, I’m trying to check my mail here, you big clingy, desperate stalker…
TechCrunch suggests – though admittedly a “lame” approach, – that cloning is the way to go for Google. For example, email platforms are fairly indistinguishable, but the main contenders still enjoy their own crowds of popularity – therefore Google should swallow some pride and just work on a well-working, uncomplicated clone of Facebook. I have to (rather heatedly) disagree.
Let’s think about this: people use Facebook or Twitter for very different reasons; because of a general (sometimes inexplicable) personal preference of the platform, because they provide different networking services, host different communities, invoke different types of interaction and communication. And though we might hold both types of account, we generally spend more time on one than the other, or, more interestingly, network with different friends/contacts depending on each platform. We stick to these preferences like glue. No matter what Facebook does (privacy issues, anyone?), they are not losing users. Twitter similarly has legions of loyal – utterly loyal – followers whose addiction is fully-grown, and they are not likely to switch to a new idea just because it’s similar.
What Google needs to do is find some distinction of their own – not Facebook, not Twitter, but a 3rd way to network, some way that will intrigue users of all types of social media networks. Clones don’t work – there are a shedload of them out there already being ignored (bye bye MySpace, see ya Ning, adios indenti.ca…). I think with the hindsight of Wave and Buzz we’ve seen that just having a big ol’ ‘G’ behind you does not a success make.
How about some innovation? How about tapping into the Google psyche and automatically creating a “Google Me” profile upon registration, based on Google search results for personal information, interests and keywords. Who hasn’t Googled themselves? Who wouldn’t like to see their own bizarre Google World, which they can then adjust, adapt, add to and customise? What about web cam chat incorporation? What about integrating apps so users can play pong together, send photos to each other, synchronise their GoogleMaps while organising a meet up… Feel free to poach, by the way.
Think about what is most annoying about Facebook or Twitter and IMPROVE it. I get peeved with Facebook for the inability to add html naturally within a post or page, not being able to truly customise your profile with images and video besides embedding them within your wall (I do realise there are apps that let you do this, but the average FB user won’t bother, and so many apps drive you mad with their inconsistency and bugs). I get annoyed with Twitter when I lose track of conversations, constantly clicking between profiles to see what’s been going on. It has a smugness that grates after a while (unless you’re a dyed in the wool Twit, in which case you’re in the clique that is laughing at me while I fall behind on the current trends…), its search is annoyingly crap and I know many people who have given up at the first hurdle because they find it too difficult to get the hang of.
Either side of the Google fence are those who agree with making the most of G’s different services, and those who don’t. My opinion (while I’ve got you here): yes, offer the option to link to email and other Google services if you want to, but personally, my problem with the whole thing (take Buzz for example) is that it’s based in too dull a format – too clinical, too much like a work-intranet – if Google want to make a worthwhile social media site, they need to break away from their Gmail style and wow us with something a little more visually interesting. Facebook’s reign will end. Twitter’s whale will beach, eventually. But Google will still be there… surely?