It feels like we’ve been saying this for years now, but Google is proving time and time again that it simply does not understand social.
When it purchased Dodgeball back in 2005, Google was four years ahead of the global trend for location-based services. By buying the market leader, it had a huge opportunity to capitalise on and dominate the market before it emerged. What did Google do with it? Discontinued the service and released its creator, Dennis Crowley, to continue with a new project. A few years later, he created Foursquare, which is currently seeking funding at a valuation of over $500 million… while Dodgeball sits in the dusty Google cabinet of ‘almosts’.
Google did well to: Spot the location based trend early.
They missed a trick by: Failing to capitalise on it, and killing Dodgeball before it flourished.
They should have: Retained Crowley and taken advantage of their foresight.
A few years later, Google returned to the social market with its new collaboration service, Google Wave. This was announced to much excitement, being proclaimed as the future of web communication and with beta invites being sold for up to $70. Eventually it was released… and the community replied with a collaborative ‘Huh?’ – the user experience was incredibly confusing and the mass population had no idea how to use it. A social media platform exists to facilitate human connections and, while Wave had some interesting functionality, it operated in a very convoluted way and didn’t satisfy any basic human needs. So, it was soon unbranded and released as an open-source platform due to lack of interest.
Google did well to: Excite the community by offering a new approach to collaboration.
They missed a trick by: Trying to change human behaviour too much by creating a needlessly complicated user experience.
They should have: Kept it simple, and focused on the consumer need rather than the technology.
Not one to give up, the company decided to take another attempt at social with Google Buzz. Buzz was a social messaging service that integrated into Google’s existing communications platforms and allowed people to share information and content easily. This seems like a useful tool on paper but, yet again, Google managed to screw it up. The launch of the product was completely overshadowed by the inherent security issues of Buzz, as well as its intrusive nature. Google didn’t realise just how personal to the consumer social media is. And while the security issues were minor in the grand scheme of things, Buzz had lost the community at ‘Hello’.
Google did well to: Spot the opportunity for a centralised communication platform.
They missed a trick by: Making the product too invasive, and allowing the security issues to take the spotlight off of it.
They should have: Focused on helping consumers consolidate their existing networks, rather than adding a new one to their already buzzing lives.
And now we come to the present day, where Google is preparing itself to hit the social market once more with a new service: ‘+1’. However, this already seems destined to be another failed social opportunity for Google because, once again, the UX has been thought through in a very sloppy way. The +1 button can be experienced in two different ways: firstly, on third-party websites with the exact same functionality as Facebook Likes (who have partnered with their rivals, Bing), but without the social graph to back it up; and secondly, in the search results.
As it currently stands, Google is asking users to press the +1 button if they ‘like’ the content being delivered. But because this call to action is placed before the web experience is even delivered, there is no way for the user to know whether they like the content or not until they’ve left the site. At that point, Google has already lost them. Do the developers of +1 really expect users to find a site through Google, view its content, then head back to Google to press a button? It’s a ridiculous user journey and a mechanic destined to fail; Google has yet again introduced a service with incomplete functionality and, unless +1 is swiftly re-imagined, it will inevitably lose the public’s interest at the first hurdle.
Google did well to: Join the social search market before Bing managed to dominate it.
They missed a trick by: Failing to create a partnership with Facebook, and creating a badly thought out user experience.
They should have: Created a partnership with Facebook to access their social graph and existing user base.
Google is one of the most logic-focused companies in the world; the company is built on intelligent algorithms that eliminate the need for social input. By relying on social data, Google is either admitting that its algorithms aren’t as intelligent as previously claimed, or it’s damaging its own service. This is a fork in the road for the company; rather than hedging its bets between the two routes, Google needs to commit to either an algorithmic or a social path, if it wishes to retain dominance in either. By Felix Morgan
Felix Morgan is senior creative technologist at Billington Cartmell !nvent. See more of its work here.
This post was spotted on Right Brain, Left Brain Blog on creamglobal.com.