Google has been hit extremely hard in an article written by former employee James Whittaker. He argues that Google, which he left recently to join Microsoft, has lost its core vision and has become a company that focuses solely on advertising and forces itself into “a single corporate-mandated focus” that he didn’t want to be a part of any longer. It was a shocking criticism of the search giant, and it indicated that things might not be so great in Mountain View, Calif.
One of Whittaker’s chief complaints was Google’s new social network, Google+. He argues that it was the breaking point that pulled Google in a new direction toward the aforementioned “mandate” and blamed CEO Larry Page for focusing Google’s efforts on social networking and advertising and not the entrepreneurial spirit that made the search giant so special.
Although it’s difficult to say if Google’s corporate culture has changed as dramatically as Whittaker says, it’s important to note that despite his issues with the company, Google has done a lot of good for the social-networking world.
1. Admit its mistakes
Remember Google Buzz? It was Google’s first major foray into the social-networking market, and failed miserably. It was hit with privacy issues, poor integration and a host of other flaws that set it back. Soon after, Google realized that it was making a mistake with Buzz and all but killed it before officially announcing so. However, the best part is, Google didn’t commit the same mistakes with Google+.
2. Who needs a Facebook clone?
Google could have very easily walked into the social-networking space with a Facebook clone and attracted at least some users. However, with Google+, the company decided to break out of the box, calling it first a social “project” and delivering really neat ideas, like Circles. Google+ is not a Facebook clone, and Google should be commended for that.
3. Video, video, video
Google+ was arguably the first social network to truly understand the value of video chatting with friends from a social site. The move was such a smart one, in fact, that Facebook was forced to partner with Skype and bring video calling to its service to catch up. Kudos to Google for realizing the value of video in social networks.
4. Integration: Controversial, but smart
Privacy advocates can say what they want about integration, and Google putting its many services into the same pane to enhance the chances of users accessing them, but it went a long way in improving its social network’s adoption. Like it or not, Google is running a business. And integrating Google+ into search and Gmail was a smart business decision.
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5. Circles is a major step
One of Facebook’s biggest flaws is managing how to share content with friends. Although it’s possible to lump friends into different groups on Facebook, the best integration of the feature is on Google+ with Circles. The way I see it, Circles is a major improvement in the social world, and it’s something that other networks are still struggling to match.
6. Cut the waste
One of Whittaker’s chief complaints about Google’s social strategy is that it fails to allow for an entrepreneurial spirit at the company. But is that really a bad thing? Google was releasing tons of online services before the company cut back, and many of them just weren’t cutting it. Google should be commended for realizing that sometimes not every online service is worth using.
One of the nicest things about Google+ is that it’s made to work the way users would expect. Unlike so many other online services, the social network is intuitive, immediately making it inviting to the user. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s far more usable than many competing social networks.
8. Resisting major acquisitions
Along the way, Google could have acquired a host of major social-networking companies (and years ago did). In fact, the company could have bought up Facebook and Twitter. But it smartly stayed out of that buying craze, instead delivering products of its own. In the social space, especially, acquisitions don’t work out. Google benefited by understanding that simple rule.
9. Delivering a real alternative to Facebook
As mentioned, Google didn’t just offer a Facebook clone with Google+. The company was also able to offer a real alternative for consumers. Not copying what Facebook does is one thing, but actually delivering a service that makes at least some people think twice about connecting with others on the world’s largest social network is quite another. It’s a real testament to Google’s social strategy.
10. Staying true to Google
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Google has been able to stay true to itself with its new social strategy. Sure, it’s heavily focused on advertising and integration with other services, and it’s not exactly third-party happy, but isn’t that what made Google so popular in the first place? Sorry, but it’s awfully difficult to fault Google for being, well, Google.