Space Ramblings

Why Google Should Stay Away from Social Networking

The Buzz implosion, basically a Google branded Twitter integrated directly into Gmail, is more than just another privacy violation, but a reminder of why Google should stay out of the social networking business. The failures of Orkut and Google Video were part of the same larger problem, which is that Google is good at understanding how people use the internet, but not why they use it.

Google’s strong point has been providing applications that make things simpler for users. Want a detailed map of the world complete with roads, directions, local businesses and street cams? Google can do that. Want easy to use emails. Yes, Google can do that too. Want no frills search, see you there. But social networking isn’t an application, it’s more of a game. For all the articles written about the importance of social networking, people don’t Facebook or Myspace or Twitter for very serious reasons. Mostly it’s frivolous and Google doesn’t do frivolous well.

For all the attempts at whimsy, from its name to the scribbly theme logos to the Lucky button, Google is not actually any good at being whimsical or frivolous. Its applications look like a pocket protector and work that way. White, no frills and very practical. From an engineering and strategic standpoint, Google Buzz made sense. But from a personal standpoint, it made no sense at all. Google Buzz, like Google Wave and Google Video, failed because it didn’t take into account why people do the things they do, not just the how. And until Google gets as good at the why as at the how, it should just stay out of the social networking business.

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