03.30.11

Google + 1: Forget the Social Stuff, Google!

Google +1 is Google's latest desperate bid for a social networking product, after its disaster with Buzz. Dan Lyons on why the search giant should give up the long-running crusade to compete with Facebook.

Google +1 is Google’s latest desperate bid for a social-networking product, after its disaster with Buzz. Dan Lyons on why the search giant should give up the long-running crusade to compete with Facebook.

Google, listen to me. We’ve been pals for, what, 10 years now? More than that. Thirteen. You’re a big part of my life. I'm using Google Search, YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Voice, Android. Everywhere I look, I’m surrounded by you. And you know what? I’m happy. I like you, Google. I think of you as a friend.

So don’t take this the wrong way, because it comes from the heart and it’s meant to be helpful. But this social stuff? This crazy, quixotic crusade to come up with some kind of social networking product that can compete with Facebook? Enough already. You need to stop. You’ve become obsessed with Facebook, and it’s not healthy.

In fact it’s getting to be scary, and embarrassing, and it doesn’t reflect well on you. All this trying to catch up with Facebook just makes you look like a grownup trying to pick a fight with a little kid—and losing.

You know as well as I do that you’re just not cut out to do social. It’s not in your DNA. Look at Buzz. You rolled that out in 2009 and all it got you was a complaint from the FTC about invading people’s privacy, which you just settled today.

Orkut, your social network, has been, well, a big hit in Brazil. And Estonia, supposedly. Bravo for that. Then there was Google Wave. That apparently had something to do with social, right? At least I think it did. Nobody ever really knew what Wave was supposed to be. Then you shut it down.

Then everyone was talking about something called “Google Me,” and it was supposed to be coming out last fall, but it never did.

But now, apparently, it has arrived, only instead of “Google Me” you’re calling it “Google +1” (as in “Google Plus One”) and it appears to be an attempt to create your own version of the Facebook “like” button. You’ll put a little “+1” next to my search results, and if I click on that button it will tell my friends that I liked this thing and they should check it out.

Also, when I do a search on Google, I’m going to have all these little +1 buttons popping up from my friends and contacts who want to tell me what they like.

You know as well as I do that you’re just not cut out to do social. It’s not in your DNA.

Really, Google? Are you serious? Because, what—you figure the experience of doing a Google search isn’t bad enough already, so you need to clutter it up with a bunch of little buttons all over the place?

Worse yet, you’re not only going to splatter these +1 buttons all over your search page, you’re also hoping they’ll get used on other Web sites, too. Just like Facebook does with its crappy little buttons. Doesn’t it ever occur to either of you guys to just leave the goddamn Web alone?

Also, who named this thing? I know you supposedly have a bunch of big-brain engineers in there who couldn’t get hired unless they passed some super difficult IQ test, but if you’re all so smart, how come you’re such idiots when it comes to marketing?

Because seriously: +1? That’s the name of your product? What does the name even mean? Did it not occur to you that maybe it would be a good idea if the name of a product actually helped people understand what a product does?

Of course that didn’t occur to you. You’re engineers. You don’t care about design, or marketing, or style. You come to work wearing T-shirts that you get free at trade shows, and you spend one day a week noodling around on things like cars that can drive themselves.

Google, look. Forget about social. You’re not a social kind of place. In fact you’re the opposite. You’re anti-social. You’re number crunchers. You’re algorithm writers. You keep trying to graft social onto what you do, but the graft won’t take.

As Mark Zuckerberg pointed out in an interview last fall, “Even the companies that are starting to come around to thinking, 'Oh, maybe we should do some social stuff,’ I still think a lot of them are only thinking about it on a surface layer. That’s not what social is. You have to design it in from the ground up.”

And here you are, Google, and on your umpteenth try to crack Fortress Facebook, your big brains have come up with basically a knock-off of something that Facebook does.

Danny Sullivan, at Search Engine Land, who covers Google really closely, says he’s “much more optimistic about this” than about your previous attempts to do social. And when I asked my buddy Michael Arrington of TechCrunch what he thinks of Google +1, he wrote back, “Facebook slayer.” But I’m not sure if he’s being sarcastic or if he really means it.

I wrote to Facebook and asked them what they thought. They declined to comment. But you know what, Google? My guess is they’re sitting over there in Palo Alto and laughing at you. Mark Zuckerberg and his team of angry, socially awkward nerds are sitting there laughing at you: Big bad Google, with all its billions and all its brainpower, can’t do what we do, and it’s driving them nuts. Ha!

I know you feel threatened. And you should. Facebook has stolen some of your best people. They have more than 600 million active members, and they’ve put a huge wall around them and won’t let you search through what those people are doing or show ads to them.

Your whole business is built around the idea of an open Web. Without that, you’re dead. And those damn kids at Facebook are taking that away from you!

But this constant chasing after Facebook and falling short only makes you look weak, and scared, and clumsy. And, as you probably realize, the more times you try and fail, the stronger Facebook seems. Please, Google, for the love of all things holy, just stop.

Dan Lyons is technology editor at Newsweek and the creator of Fake Steve Jobs, the persona behind the notorious tech blog, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. Before joining Newsweek, Lyons spent 10 years at Forbes.