Have you heard? Google is apparently making a new social network that will rival Facebook.
I often find myself voicing the opinion that there is no need to create another social networking site – let people bring their existing networks to you (Disqus allows you to do this, I use it on this blog). And yet here, I’m excited and think there’s real potential.
Why? Because much as Facebook is presented as the only social networking site, that’s bunk. Google has a ton of social networks – aside from Orkut, it’s just that many of them are functional, useful sites with a layer of social, and they’re disparate. I’ve listed a bunch below (in no particular order) – can you think of any more?
- Reader – has social share aspect.
- Buzz – despite the fuss, there’s potential here (Scoble post) and images and links are done really well.
- Wave – OK, wasn’t the hit that some of us (OK, me) expected – but aside from your network in wave, it shows off some great real-time editing and updating capabilities, that are flowing into Google Docs.
- Gmail – yes, it’s private and they have to walk that line better, but emails can be studied as a social network (paper from HP).
- Lattitude – location based updating.
- Google Groups
- Social Search – Google is already working the whole newsfeed-esque aspect of “you’ll like stuff your friends like” (paper on how users who talk a lot tend to search for the same things).
- Google Docs – sharing folders is useful for organizations and/or colleagues.
Don Norman wrote ages ago about the organizational structure of finding things on Google and how that might reflect on the organization itself:
Is Google simple? No. Google is deceptive. It hides all the complexity by simply showing one search box on the main page. The main difference, is that if you want to do anything else, the other search engines let you do it from their home pages, whereas Google makes you search through other, much more complex pages. Why aren’t many of these just linked together? Why isn’t Google a unified application? Why are there so many odd, apparently free-standing services?
A long time ago, 1968 to be precise, a wise person named Conway wrote: “Organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” So true: I can see this in products from many a company. Except with Google, there appears to be no organizational structure of the product. Hmm.
But what I see here, is that Google has all the components of a social networking site that would be technically far better than anything Facebook is doing; they have an existing, and huge, user base; they are also more trusted. But will they give users the option to assemble them in a coherent manner? Perhaps with the addition of widgets from outside, like Twitter, and allow people to manage their Twitter AND their Buzz from one place?
Or will they start from scratch?
I really hope it’s the former.