This debate has played out in the enterprise software market in various segments, starting with enterprise resource planning to as recent as identity management. I thought it would be interesting to apply this to the consumer space, specifically “Google vs Facebook”.
One can conclude that Google wants to deliver a “suite” experience out of its various services. Perhaps it has realized that Facebook’s success is due to just this suite approach when it comes to sharing, whether its status updates, photos, notes, links, location check-ins, chat, etc. None of those individual capabilities might qualify to be best of breed against their relevant counterparts. There are better photo sharing sites, better blogging sites, better location services available outside of Facebook, but the integration of all these through a seamless interface makes Facebook highly sticky. In contrast, Google has had best of breed services – search, maps, news, mail, calendar, photos, (well you could argue Flickr is better, but if you compare with Facebook photos, Picasa has a better interface at least IMHO), YouTube for videos, etc., but thus far it has not been able to unify the experience in a meaningful “social” fashion.
So will Google succeed? Time will tell. Google has more assets than Facebook to bring to the “integration” table, but in this case less may be more, and Google has to demonstrate that it can deliver something that fits in with the psychology of the users, instead of just pushing the envelope on technology for the sake of technology. Facebook, and even Twitter for that matter, has become a daily habit for most people.
Google, therefore, has to better define what it wants to be for its users. It finds itself cornered in a position similar to what happened to Yahoo!. Before Google started to expand its portfolio of services, Yahoo! arguably had the best of breed functional assets at the time. In my opinion, if Google strives to create a smooth and integrated experience to rival Facebook’s, it is just playing Facebook’s game and it will be playing catch up. So I want to offer Google some suggestions for its social strategy:
1. Don’t bother about a “beautifully simple and intuitive” Google experience. It sounds like enterprise jargon of “unified-integrated-smooth-seamless”. Most users don’t really know what that means and couldn’t care less. Facebook works because people don’t consciously decide they are going to use Facebook, they just want to know what their friends are up to and share what they are up to. So, make Google a habit, and not an “experience”.
2. People use Google because it is great at what it does – great for search, great for maps, great for mail and calendar, great for photos, great for news, great for videos, etc. Continue to make these absolutely best of breed. Develop vertical communities around each and people will find ways to identify themselves in these communities. Just like enterprise IT managers have to make a conscious decision between best of breed vs suites, force users to make this decision. By just playing Facebook’s game, you are not giving users any different choice.
3. People’s time can be chunked up as “disposable” time and “non-disposable” time. Right now, Facebook is ruling the disposable time. Don’t compete for it directly. It will never be more than the “non-disposable” time. Design yourself to own the “non-disposable” time, because people value it much more.
4. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Segment the demographics. If you are an architect, here is how Google looks to you. If you are a wild life photographer, or a musician, here’s your Google. If you are a musician, a parent and also into yoga, well here’s your Google. Divide and conquer. If you ever want to create experiences, these are the experiences that would work much better than creating a mega Google experience. Because people’s experiences are about who they are, and the lives they live, rather than how they use your technology.
Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, so we will have to see how things play out for Google, but I hope it changes the game.