Google CEO Eric Schmidt raised eyebrows by saying Google is adding social Web services in layers as opposed to a singular social network to challenge Facebook’s fortress.
Several signs earlier this spring pointed to a major assault on Facebook. Rumors of a social network effort, called Google Me, burbled forth in June.
Google fueled the rumor with the frenzied acquisitions of social app maker Slide, virtual currency provider Jambool, social aggregator Angstro and social gaming provider SocialDeck, along with the $100 million investment in social gaming power Zynga.
However, Schmidt tried to dispel the rumors at Zeitgeist, telling reporters:
“Everybody has convinced themselves that there’s some huge project about to get announced next week. And I can assure you that’s not the case.”
“We’re trying to take Google’s core products and add a social component… If you think about it, it’s obvious. With your permission, knowing more about who your friends are, we can provide more tailored recommendations. Search quality can get better.”
Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray said Schmidt’s comments seem to discount the expectations that Google will compete with Facebook in the future, “but he may simply be trying to moderate expectations, which really have risen to a fever pitch around Google and its rumored social product.”
Other social media analysts aren’t sure Google wants to line up on opposite sides of the same field with its nemesis, at least not so directly.
Altimeter Group founding analyst Charlene Li said search remains Google’s core focus and the company sees social tools as features to be added to its existing Web services.
However, socializing search, something it began trying late last year with Google Social Search, will be the key for Google, Li told eWEEK.
Google, Facebook Duel for Data
“You can see the impact of their ability to infer what you are searching for through the new Google Instant interface,” Li noted.
“If they can infer even more about your intent because of your social profile, past search history, and compare it in a millisecond against all of the other people with a similar profile, they can produce more relevant search results than the competition.”
Ray added that there is tremendous value in having Google make search results more personally relevant based on the opinions and ratings of one’s friends.
However, he said that Google’s opportunities in social extend beyond just search, noting that socializing properties such as Google Maps, YouTube and other Web services in a smart and integrated way is essential.
Schmidt also said at Zeitgeist that Google would love to get Facebook users’ contact lists so that people can grow their social network on Google.
For example, while Google’s Gmail allows Facebook to scan their Gmail contacts to help them find out whether those people also use Facebook, Facebook doesn’t allow Google to access similar information from Facebook.
This presents an interesting opportunity for Google, Li claims. She believes that Google’s layered approach underscores how there is a lot of social activity happening outside Facebook.
The social network giant, which has used its Like button to propragate the network across several businesses, must recognize this or risk missing growth opportunities.
“To stay relevant, Facebook has to open up, including to competitors like Google, and Google will fight the war on its own turf, search,” Li said.
“Google Me thus doesn’t end up being a Facebook replacement — Google is hoping that Facebook will be just one of the inputs into an aggregated experience, especially as social activity fragments across sites, rather than consolidates on Facebook.