There’s a lot of buzz and chatter in the blogosphere about Google’s upcoming social features. Starting with Kevin Rose’s infamous tweet, we’ve been referring to an amorphous “Google Me” platform. Presumably, Google Me will be designed to go toe-to-toe with Facebook. We’ve seen rumors about Zynga bringing social gaming aboard, along with a recent acquisition that suggests Google Me is indeed a reality. While some might feel that Google Me has been blogged ad nauseum,I will speculate what this service will look like.
Google has many very social properties that exist as islands. The core properties are Picasa, Gmail, Voice, Chat (and Video), Reader, Blogger, YouTube, and Orkut. Buzz was an attempt to bring together many of these properties and connect them. Think of Buzz as a hub and the other properties as spokes. However, Buzz did not gain widespread adoption. For some, it was the privacy missteps in the first few days of operation that kept them away. I believe there are more obvious and compelling reasons why people aren’t using Buzz in large numbers right now. First, people want to interact with their existing associates, many of whom they communicate with on Facebook. Second, the Buzz interface is somewhat confusing. Facebook and Twitter primarily operate on a chronological model. Buzz doesn’t. Back to the point, Buzz was a failed attempt to create a widely adopted hub linking Google’s social properties, the islands.
I believe Google Me will connect the islands in a very similar way that iGoogle can be used to connect all of Google’s services. In fact, iGoogle has long had some social features unique among all of Google’s properties, including rudimentary social gaming. I actually think Google Me will, in fact, look quite a bit like iGoogle. We will design our own social networks. We may choose a box for YouTube, a stream of Buzz, some Picasa albums, Gmail previews, Chat pane, etc. which would all appear in some integrated fashion on one page (or a group of tabbed pages). Unlike Buzz, Wave and other Google properties that have “fixed” UIs, Google Me may have a more “dynamic” user-customizable look and feel. Drop and drag a feed of friends on the left, maybe another for co-workers in the middle and keep Chat on the right. Or, maybe have it the other way around. Oh, and the top will likely have a search bar and a status update-like field (not too dissimilar from Facebook). Oddly, if I’m correct about the user-customizable look and feel, Google Me may be somewhat similar to *gasp* MySpace in some respects. (Don’t get too discouraged. MySpace was once wildly successful and there may be some elements worth salvaging.)
Will Google Me succeed where Buzz has failed? I’m sure Google will control the rollout and check, double check and triple check to make sure there aren’t serious privacy concerns. Well, this alone won’t assure it’s success. As I pondered above, many people’s existing social networks exist on Facebook. Zynga could help lure massive numbers of virtual farmers, mafia wannabes and others from Facebook to Google, particularly if Zynga and Facebook completely part ways. There is also an enormous installed base of Gmail users. If there is a way to convert them into Google Me users, Google should find it. Also, consider that Google could leverage its upcoming Google TV, Google Music and Google Books properties. Another angle Google could play is integrating Google Me with Apps. Enterprise might be more likely to permit employees to use Google Me, if there were dedicated business streams and corporate discussions. Whereas, Facebook is practically a complete suck on employee productivity.
In any event, I’m straying want into the “will it work?” topic and I intended to merely write about what it will look like. My bets are on a user-customizable iGoogle-like platform. I don’t have a shred of evidence to support this but, as I titled the post, this is my best guess.
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