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Why does Google get social content but not social networks?

It’s a running joke in the digital media space that Google+ is a ghost town. Not entirely accurate as companies such as Ford believe in the space and prominent bloggers still actively participate there, but it certainly didn’t meet the promise that many hoped for – to finally bring a direct competitor (with deep pockets) to Facebook. 50mm active users and 90mm registered users is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s certainly not where the Internet giant was hoping to be. This isn’t the first time Google’s tried to venture into social networks, there were the other Internet services, Buzz and Wave, which became fodder for Internet jokes before being shut down.

On the flip side, Google’s content creation engine consistently churns out compelling content that is shared far and wide and highly praised: think Google Doodles; April Fools jokes; and random Easter Eggs in products (e.g. Map Directions). They excel at it and appear to have a lot of fun doing it. So it should be only natural that if they are that good at creating content that people want to share they should understand how to build products that facilitate that sharing. Right?

Well, understanding the psychology of human sharing and interaction is different from creating cool things that people like to geek out to. Google, at its core, is full of incredibly smart engineers who look at problems logically and have a deep understanding of how the Internet works, how to create workflows, and how their own products can all be tied in together. These are the folks who brought us Gmail that revolutionized email, search which is the backbone of how people find information online, etc. etc.

But these products are all fundamentally purpose built, not discovery and interaction built.

I go to Gmail to read and respond to email. I use the search engine to find things I’m looking for, not to browse the web. I use Maps to get directions and find things. You get the picture. YouTube is different, but it wasn’t built in house, it was acquired after it was already successful and hasn’t really expanded much past it’s original purpose – to watch videos online.

The sticky social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al. are all about frictionless creation and sharing which is where the content that Google creates naturally spreads. Google+ is amazingly built. It has so many features that the other networks lack it should be a natural place to migrate our social interactions to. Except, all those features that make sense logically probably confuse the average user. Geeks get it, but geeks already have channels where their buddies are to share on. Circles are actually a really great idea, but the average person looks at that and says, whoa, way too much work! I’d hazard a guess that 9 out of 10 people on Facebook and Twitter haven’t set up lists either (the simplest versions of Circles). Ripples? What are those? Hangouts, which should have been the killer feature weren’t promoted properly (think about how Apple promoted Facetime for how it should have been done), and YouTube integration was an after-thought instead of a must have from day one. I could go on and on but you get the picture. When Google builds social networks they build them through their own incredibly logical lens instead of an average consumer lens.

So, what can they do? I’d suggest taking a look at why their content is so successful and how it spreads (psst, they have Google Analytics that recently added social networks tracking they could take a peek at for some insights). I’d also do a deep analysis of what their competitors are doing from a marketing lens, not a development one. Make it easy to import friends from other networks, make setting up a profile a snap, make it cool (and easy) to be there. Then, in the immortal words of start-ups: pivot…. Hell, even Zuckerberg pivoted by opening The Facebook to non-college kids.

In the meantime, keep the content coming, it’s really good!

Image credit: [Jennifer Horn @ Google]

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