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Is Google Engineering A Social Media Train Wreck?


Boy it sure has been a busy official first week of the Larry Page era at Google. If current events are any indication it looks like there may be some interesting times ahead.

Why is that? Well, according to the Business Insider, Page has tied 25% of all employee bonuses for 2011 to the success or failure of Google’s social media efforts.

New Google CEO Larry Page, who stepped into the job this week, believes that Google needs to go “social” to compete.

“This is a joint effort so it’s important that we all get behind it,” we’re told Page writes in the confidential memo, subject-lined “2011 Bonus Multiplier.”

Page tells employees that are not directly involved in Google’s social efforts that they, too, will be held accountable. He writes that employees must test the products and give feedback.

Page wants these employees to push Google’s social products on their “family and friends.”

“When we release products, try them and encourage your family and friends to do the same.”

So let’s do a little quick math here. Add this information about how Google needs to be social to compete to a history of failed social efforts. Then add the final piece of the puzzle which is Page’s move to give engineers more say in how Google’s business is done and you get what? I say a train wreck that is caused by engineers of the software and algorithm kind not the diesel engine kind.

The idea that people who are not known for their social skills will be creating social products and that their financial success is tied to these efforts is, well, almost comical. Is it possible that Google’s obsession with hiring only the smartest of the smart has removed them so far from the real world that wouldn’t be able to construct a real social product if their status as geek gods depended on it?

But Page is convinced that this is the way to go. There is a screenshot in another Business Insider article that is of an internal FAQ to Googlers about the plan. The quick write up tells of how these bonuses are held against how Google

“perform[s] against our strategy to integrate relationships, sharing and identity across our products.”

“We all have a stake in the success of this effort and this multiplier is designed to reflect that.”

I would like to see Google pull this off but honestly I think they are in over their heads. I realize this is just my opinion because I haven’t spoken to any Google insiders. But you can see when a company is struggling in areas. Add to all of this that Google is paying out ridiculous amounts to key employees to keep them from jumping to Twitter and this whole deal smells weird.

Is Google so fearful that the social web will leave them in the dust that they are getting desperate? Considering their track record that seems to make some sense. The bigger question is how will this seemingly over the top focus on a social Google impact their cash cow search business? Would they ever put that at risk?

While this all makes for interesting speculation the real test will be when they roll out however they plan to integrate sharing, relationships and identity across their products. Until then they are only as good as their social track record and that might cause more than a few Googlers to consider life with less of a bonus.

What do you think Google’s chances are in the social realm? Is it something they can engineer or is it just a great Internet powerhouse heading down a track to disaster?

  • http://www.brandontwyford.com Brandon Twyford

    I respect that Google is trying to take a bottom-line approach to developing new social media products, but I agree with you in that I think they are going about it the wrong way. They haven’t had the kind of success in the past that other top-tier social networking sites have. Lots of incredibly creative minds at Google though — and if they can find a way to tie together the existing online services nearly all of us use into a seamless social experience that offers something Twitter and Facebook don’t, they might succeed in presenting a unique social product.

  • http://www.marketingprofessor.com Travis Campbell

    Frank-

    Nice ideas here.

    I think Google has a great opportunity here to learn from past mistakes. Like any company that has a decade of dominance as they have had, it appears they complacency reared its head. Now they are at the point of urgency as online (PPC) advertisers redirect resources to their chief (and very social) competitor, which is much simpler to use by the way…

    Your caution as to the route they are taking to “social bliss” is worth considering. Engineers, in general, are more motivated by challenge and the sense of accomplishment than money.

    Their I/O conference next month should reveal a lot.

    Here’s hoping they hit a homerun.

    Google will be a player for many years to come. However, to be a major player in social media it appears they are running short on time.

    -Travis

  • Michael Cowden

    Ultimately you may be right about the outcome for Google, but what’s comical to me is the stereotype of engineers and the fact that this strategy is pretty much how Facebook operates. I think a more balanced approach works best personally, but developers definitely run the show over at Facebook…

    http://framethink.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/how-facebook-ships-code/

    • http://www.localbasix.com Frank Reed

      @Michael – I realize that there is a bit of stereotyping going on here but it seems like the old trouble that companies have thinking that Internet marketing is an IT function rather than a marketing one. Social media is a people function and an interaction function. The code written has to facilitate how ‘regular’ people communicate so there can be mass adoption and not just a new geek toy. Phd’s and high academics often miss the real world nuance in situations because they literally don’t think like the masses. There is nothing wrong wit that but when you are trying to engage everyone in a product its best to have the voice of those people represented otherwise they may not ‘take’ to the offering that is whiz bang cool technologically but over their head.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

  • http://www.brandignity.com Maciej Fita

    Google has been making some very interesting moves lately but the social “layer” is still something of a myth. The +1 button is an amazing idea if they can follow through and carry that idea to the next level. Sometimes I can’t help to wonder that they follow their search trend data and predict new headlines for competition and simply come up with stuff to announce.

  • http://www.affreeliate.com/ Free Landing Pages

    I agree that Google been making some upgrades and nice moves lately in the industry. Hmm paying ridiculously amount to keep them from jumping to twitter.. how odd. It would be interesting to see how this will all turn out for Google and Facebook in the upcoming years.

  • http://www.twitter.com/thescenicdan Dan

    It’s tough to tell like you said without Google insider info, but given their track record, I’m in total agreement that this has ‘trouble’ written all over it.

    I feel like Google just keeps reacting to what others are doing in social. There’s no innovation in what they’re doing – instead it’s duplication and usually with less quality or value. I personally think Google needs to create something of true value that hasn’t been done – much easier said than done, but at this point their Buzz, Latitude, and +1 efforts just aren’t cutting it. The main problem is how limited they are with having to use Google user profiles, which are weak at best, compared to the massive library of user information on FB. They’re capable of making great products outside of search – look at Gmail. I believe somewhere inside Google is a truly value product waiting to surface, but it certainly hasn’t’ surfaced yet.

  • http://www.arcanasphere.com/ MrAndrewJ

    Backrub was social before social was cool.

    The large issue that I see with Google’s newest social efforts is that they are, for the most part, feature-poor knock-offs of other other products.

    That’s not always bad. They made it work for Android by using the “cheap” to their advantag: less expensive and much more open. Android shook things up just as the Google engine shook things up. Gmail shook things up by offering then-ludicrous amounts of storage.

    They’ll have to find a way to make their price even better than free like they have in the past. What’s in it for me to +1 something? To check in with Latitude? Facebook offers “curator” cool points. Foursquare has experience points and better badges.

    My ultimate opinion is that they need to stop acting like the Go-Bots of social media and start acting like Google again.

  • James Rock

    It’s a shame to see Google is beginning to suffer the first signs of “Conglomerate Decline”.

    Start-ups are passionate about what they do and apply their talents to fulfill a deep purpose – Googles purpose was to “be the best way of making information available to the world” and that drove product development. Money was a result of being good – not an objective. Their purpose now seems to have been lost in expanionist strategies that are taking them away from what they know and do best, and as someone said above, producing “me too” products that are free but average.

    People dont like mass market free products even if they are free. They use them from necessity not desire. Apple didn’t grow by delivering average products -their purpose is “developing insanely good products”.

    Employees are not motivated by money in general. They are motivated by purpose and engagement and attempts to force people to do something for money always fails in the long term. The best will go off to join other startups or maybe begin their own. New hires will be attracted by benefits not passion for developing something new and unique. Customers will begin to become disenfranchised and look again at competitors… Isn’t this what has happened at Microsoft?

    James Rock
    Business Designer
    Cultivar Consulting ( http://cultivar.word press.com )

  • http://www.peterdrewvo.com Peter Drew

    Google’s decision to have their engineers design social efforts is akin to an architect physically picking up tools and building his own house. If you’ve ever visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” in Pennsylvania, you’ll know what I mean. It’s stunning from a design standpoint, but it’s damp, drafty, and the roof leaks. I also know from personal experience. My wife and I rented a home that was built by the hands of an architect and his wife. Like Falling Water, it was drafty and the roof leaked. I predict Google’s social offerings are gonna be pretty, well, leaky, if you will.