What Would It Take to Get You to Leave Facebook for Google Me?

google me vs facebook

The founder of Digg, Kevin Rose, tweeted that Google is preparing its own social network, Google Me.  Rose deleted that Tweet, leaving some people wondering if he had been forced to retract it.  Later, on Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech, Rose repeated the assertion.  Then, SF Weekly and a former Facebook executive also confirmed that their sources had provided the same information.

We don’t normally like to traffic in the rumor business here at 40Tech, but our previous concerns over Facebook’s privacy problems make this one particularly interesting.  If this is true, can Google mount a credible challenge to Facebook’s dominance?

Google doesn’t necessarily have a good track record with social networks, or web apps with a social component.  Google already runs Orkut, Buzz, and Wave, and all three have been underwhelming.  But were any of them really attempts to challenge Facebook?  Buzz and Wave weren’t full-blown social networks, and Orkut is an unknown to most people.  In fact, it is now operated and managed in Brazil.

If we give Google a "redo," what will it take to mount a credible challenge to Facebook?  Here’s our take on what Google needs to cook up in order to have a chance.

 

Appeal to the Masses with An UnGoogle-Like User Interface

Buzz and Wave, along with many other Google properties, do demonstrate one hurdle Google will need to overcome.  Specifically, Google will need to get a clue when it comes to designing an attractive, compelling user interface.  Google has a knack for designing web apps that apply to geeks, but leave many users cringing.  As a geek, I like Gmail’s spartan interface, but I’m probably in the minority.  Google will need to design a system that is both pretty, and easy to use.

 

Appeal to the Geeks By Respecting Privacy, and Using Open Standards

Tech-savvy users are often early adopters of new technologies and new services, with the rest of the world following their lead.  If Google can’t win over those users, then it stands zero chance with the general public.

To win over the tech crowd, Google will need to convince tech-savvy users that privacy matters in its new service.  The recent howls of outrage over Facebook’s apparent disregard for user privacy seemed to resonant with the tech crowd, but not with anybody else.  And Google has had some recent privacy fiascos of its own, including with Buzz, and with Google Street View.

My take?  I trust Google with my information more than I trust Facebook.  This isn’t because I attribute altruistic motives to Google.  To the contrary, it is because of Google’s business plan.  Google’s plan, in its simplest terms, is to get people using the Internet more and more.  The more that people use the Internet, and the faster they use it, the more money Google makes.

This contrasts with Facebook’s apparent business model.  Facebook’s business plan seems to be about capitalizing on user data.  The more you restrict your data on Facebook, the less useful you are to Facebook.

Many tech geeks are also fans of open standards.  There is some hope that Google Me will use OpenID, which would be a stark contrast to Facebook’s closed ecosystem.  Taking such a step might help to draw in the tech crowd.

 

Dazzle Everyone With Something Groundbreaking

If Google Me turns out to be Facebook in another wrapper, it will be dead on arrival.  Just like Facebook was a big step up from MySpace, Google Me will need to try something new.  What that "something" will be is anybody’s guess, but it will need to be compelling, and an attention grabber.  If it isn’t, then the status quo (i.e. Facebook) will prevail.

 

Don’t Be a Wasteland

It’s a catch-22, but people will go where their friends and other people are.  All of the above points will need to combine to build some sort of momentum, and draw at least a seed of users to Google Me.

If a new user takes a look at Google Me, and none of his or her friends are there, that user won’t stick around.  That is what happened to me with Google Buzz.  I liked it, but with one or two exceptions the only people there were the "big players."  None of my real life friends were there, with one exception.

Google has its work cut out for it, but the task isn’t impossible. Users have left social networks in the past for greener pastures (remember MySpace?), so it could happen again.  And ironically, the presence of Facebook would make it easier for a new social network to spread virally.  Would you check out a new service that all of your Facebook friends were praising?  But Google won’t make it happen just on name alone.

 

What Would It Take to Get YOU to Use Google Me?

I know we’ve stated the obvious a bit here, but that’s to get you thinking about what it would take to get YOU to use Google Me, if the service sees the light of day.  Let us know in the comments.

Evan Kline

Hello, I'm Evan. I write about tech from my perspective – that of the average 40-something tech geek. You can also find me on Twitter and at my real-life job as a lawyer.    MORE ABOUT ME.

5 Comments:

  1. I will definitely be using Google Me once it comes out, just like I did for Wave and Buzz and lots of other Google services.

    The questions is will I keep using it? I can’t see myself leaving Facebook because too many of my friends are there. Will Google Me have enough to make me keep track of another social network? Or will it just be something I automate, like I do with Buzz?

    Questions, questions. No way to know until it comes out, but I’m glad they are doing it. Google is a powerhouse and probably the only ones that can really challenge Facebook in my opinion. I think the key would be the integration with other Google services. They have a fine line to walk with it, but if they do it right, it could make the difference.

    Great article.

    Anthony Russo
    http://www.anthonyrussoblog.com/Anthony
    Skype: anth.russo
    Twitter: @AnthonyRusso
    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/anthony.russo

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. It will come down to whether it gets enough critical mass that our friends start using it. People will go where their friends are. It might be the proverbial chicken/egg thing.

  2. Where do I sign and when is it coming?
    I am not a Facebook fan so call me an early adopter to Google Me.

    As far as success, I think you are right on the money with “Groundbreaking” and “Wasteland”.

    Consider, however, that Farmville, etc. is what U.S. citizens have chosen to focus on rather than the wholesale sacking of the middle class and “American Dream”. Thus, it seems Facebook is indeed a Wasteland of the First Order, but that is what sells…kinda like prime-time network TV.

    That said, I would offer that “groundbreaking” might be something like Google sponsoring something like “Good” [ http://www.good.is/ ], currently supported by you-know-who. They could integrate it into all of their other social services and put their money where their mouth is and seed-money a number of key local volunteer efforts based on track record, exposure, need, etc. and, heck, maybe people might find joining society more interesting than Farmville or something…who knows ?

    • I’ve never understood the Farmville allure, either. I quit EverQuest many years ago because it seemed like a huge treadmill and waste of time, and the way people talk about Facebook, it sounds worse. But, I’ve never tried it firsthand.

      I just checked out Good, too. That looks interesting. Still trying to get my brain around what it is, exactly, but I’m getting the sense it is like a social network, but for people who actually want to contribute substantive content?

      • Yeah, WordScraper is where it’s at :) I’m half serious – most of the time I spend on Facebook (not a lot) is playing WS (a Scrabble-type game).

        If lots of my friends jumped to Google Me, I might, but otherwise, I’ll stick with Facebook.
        .-= Kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..Phobia =-.

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