Jack of All Trades, Master of… The Problem with Google

what does google want to be

So, it looks like Google is entering the comment system fray.

Never mind that it smacks of yet another “let’s copy Facebook” move. Nor that there are already excellent comment systems out there at the minute – the awesome Livefyre (used on this very blog), Disqus and IntenseDebate to name just some of the third-party options.

Google’s clearly taken a look at how Facebook Comments tie the user into Zuckerberg’s network, and wants a piece of that pie to go along with their recent abandonment of their “don’t be evil” mantra.

While it’ll no doubt attract its fans and users – especially the Google+ aficionados – I can’t help but feel the announcement is just another indication of why Google is struggling when it comes to social.

We Think We Want To Be…

One of the problems Google faces is it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It was a lot easier in its early days, when search was the be all and end all of the Google equation.

But search only gets you so far (in Google’s case, being #1 means you kind of have nowhere else to go). Cue growth time.

Google Ads; PageRank; Google Earth; Blogger; YouTube; Feedburner; Google Voice; Gmail; Google Labs and more. From the small beginning of a search idea between two friends, Google became a fully-fledged multimedia company.

And it seems to be confusing them.

While Google was busy adding cool stuff to its repertoire, it wasn’t really making that cool stuff particularly sticky with the general public. Yes, they own the search space – but think of their real success stories, and they’re mostly external projects.

YouTube, they bought. Android, they bought. Google Earth, they bought. Google Voice, they bought. In fact, when you really think about it, the biggest success story for Google internally is its very first product.

And maybe that grinds them, when they see what Facebook has achieved since its inception back in the middle of the last decade.

  • It got the everyday user buy-in that most Google products haven’t (yet).
  • It made the web fun.
  • It appealed to all ages.
  • It attracted brands as well as consumers.
  • It’s continued to innovate internally.

Yet, perhaps more importantly, Facebook has managed to do all this without really needing the search strength of Google to achieve its popularity and success (just ask yourself how many other businesses don’t care about where they rank on Google’s algorithm).

Google PlusTo combat this, Google launched Google+, their own social network and the one that Google is pinning a lot of its hopes on in its battle with Facebook, especially after the abysmal failures of Buzz and Wave.

Early indications are good – 100 million users and reports of the network’s importance to search.

Although numbers aren’t everything – Google forces you to create a Google+ profile whenever you open a new Google product account, so that immediately adds to installed user base.

And when questioned recently at South by Southwest, the Google representative admitted that they class “active use” of Google+ something as miniscule as clicking the little alert button in your Gmail account, without even going through to the main Google+ site.

So take the numbers with a huge pinch of salt.

And now there’s the news of the Google comments system. Talk about throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the wall…

Too Many Google Pies

As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to see why Google is going this route. With their recent “One Privacy” announcement, Google are looking to bake all their products into a more cohesive offering.

By doing this, they’ll (hopefully) make it such an integrated experience that you won’t need – or want – to use any other provider. From email to videos, business applications to smartphones, search, social networking and e-commerce, Google wants to be be the kingpin.

The problem is, they’re not doing a very good job of it so far.

If they really wanted to integrate, they’d already be making Google+ the centrepiece for their users, and a simple one at that. Unfortunately, that’s not coming across (currently) in the user experience.

Let’s say I wanted to create a promo video with customer testimonials, for example.

I should be able to grab images from my storefront on Google+ (the one they don’t really provide), collate them into a slideshow, add a voiceover, create a Hangout with some of my best customers, get testimonials, edit into the video, polish and then publish direct to YouTube.

Then I should be able to work in Google Docs to create a promo kit, call up my Circles of journalist friends, and send an invitation to the media kit as well as embedded video for them to watch. Voila, an instant interactive release.

Could this be on the way? Maybe – but if Google really wants Google+ to be truly adopted, they need to be doing this now. Instead, they’re just adding more things and, by doing so, adding to the problem.

Take the Google comments system. Let’s say that’s adopted as Google’s standard system – what happens to all the comments left on a Blogger blog post? Or a YouTube video? How do these get integrated – do they, or are they just cast aside, which seems to be Google’s usual way (just look at Picnik).

And the problem when you can’t merge old platforms or designs with new ones doesn’t always go over well (just ask YouTue users who got pissed at that channel’s makeover, and how it messed up their feeds).

One World or One Success at a Time?

There’s no doubt Google has the resources to take on Facebook and other platforms and businesses they want to compete with. Their Android platform is going head-to-head with the Apple machine and doing very well for itself.

But social seems to escape them, for some reason. Do we really need another comments system, even one that’s baked into Google’s core products? Will that be enough to see Facebook users – or at least the ones used to using their comments system – add Google+ to their repertoire?

Despite their early success, the jury’s still out on Google+ in general, and what Google actually wants to be as a company.

The latest comment news doesn’t really answer any questions; instead, it just poses more. And no matter what company you are, get too many users asking too many questions about who you really are, and that’s never a good thing…

Your thoughts? Is Google over-extending itself, or simply laying the bricks for an unassailable foundation?

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  1. Art Graham says

    i was just thinking on the ride home that people were starting to hate google because of behemoth syndrome.

  2. rainbowclaire says

    I do agree with you Dan – Google are consistently spreading themselves thinly,  but what I do think they do well is how they integrate all their functions.
    Some people have an issue with how much their Google account stores and knows about them, but I’ve found it so useful as I’ve got an Android.  My phone knowing what I searched for on my work PC, makes my out-of-office searching much more seamless.  And I love how my Android photos automatically get uploaded to a private area on my G+ account (no need to faff around with cables and uploads).
    They do have a lot of functions (some much more useful that others I’ll admit) but it’s the usability of them that makes them the giant that they are.

    • says

       @rainbowclaire Did you see some of the stories about the Instant Upload feature on the iPhone app not actually placing images and files in a private area of G+? Not too reassuring. 😉
      Completely agree that if they can get their act together and seamlessly integrate, then they’ll have one helluva reason to use. It’s getting there that seems to be the issue… 😉

  3. belllindsay says

    Methinks you should patent your ideas here Danny. Interactive, easily shared and accessed promo/publicity kit…!? As an ex journalist/producer I kinda wet myself when I read that! 😀 Thoughtful post. Cheers! 

  4. Mike Ashworth says

    its the curse of most large companies i am afraid. they start as a smaller business with the best of intentions however as they get bigger, and start to worry about investors, market share and a whole host of other things, it can all go wrong, microsoft now seem wholesome in comparison! they need to refocus, the only reason they were interested in a social network is to collect data (what people type) so they can use it for search purposes. they should strike a deal with facebook, twiter, who are way better at it than them and focus on “search” not social networks.

  5. says

    Hi Danny, you are absolutely right.
    Even thought I like Google, they have became too confusing. I use several popular Google services which are really great. But these new ones,  I really don’t need them nor find them useful. For example, I was also  forced to open my Google+ account. It may be good, but I already have Facebook and Twitter account and I think that this is enough of social media.  Not to mention their One Privacy announcement. As  I can remember, I click on that ok button about 20 times, and still, from time to time, I can see this announcement when I log into my account. I don’t know is it just  boring or it became  too annoying.
    It would be nice if Google would just keep good services and work on their improvement instead of inventing, new – old ones. This way they can only lose customers.

    • says

       @Danijela My wife’s aunt opened a Gmail account and immediately left it well alone after being forced to open a G+ account as part of the deal. It reminds me of Klout and their lame-assed ways of accruing numbers, by creating profiles for anyone with a public Twitter feed. 
      It’s funny – look at Apple and how they build loyalty through user experience. Something Google and others like them could learn from…

  6. says

    Thanks for writing this Danny. Encapsulates my feelings pretty well.
    And now, yesterday, comes word that they are also releasing a “DropBox Killer” in April.
    Pick one thing. Do it well.
    I stand by my previous belief and statement that Google pretty much sucks at anything that is not search.

  7. Mark Longbottom says

    Watch out for this too, I had someone suggest mroe people reclaim the itnernet and search through http://duckduckgo.com/ which feels like Google once did and doesn’t put you in a personalised bubble making your search worthless.Let’s see who hypes this comment system will it be the guy who founded Digg now working  for Google, looking at Pinterest and thinking wow what a good idea wish I’d had it.  Meanwhile he trys to save Google who watch Facebook sprint off into the sunset.

    • says

       @Mark Longbottom I LOVE DuckDuckGo, mate, been using it a lot lately as I scale back my Google use. Like you say, very reminiscent of the Google Search glory days, and such a cool concept too. :)

  8. says

    Welll actually Google knows where it’s going: making as much money as possible in whatever way and ruling the net as their own little garden. It’s ages that, as you said, they innovate just by buying other people’ stuff but they’re stuck in making money. It worked for a while but now they’re a dead horse. Bing is already better at being relevant and being integrated with Facebook it’s just a matter of time until they’ll throw G out of business. Imho. Which if you are used to be the top gun of the net must hurt a little.
    They reap what they’ve sown. Slashing away websites based on their own opinion, ranking websites as they see fit (theirs always first) and so on. They want money but the toy is broken. Also who said that we should pass our free time online? Who needs another commenting system. And for Livefyre friends, please don’t sell to Google. Or someone else. 😉

    • says

       @Andrea Hypno There’s a great article doing the rounds about just why Google is broken, and it ties perfectly into your comment here, Andrea:
      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a business making money, and make no mistake, Google is definitely a business. But when it goes against pretty much everything your culture has ever stood for, then yes, you have to ask yourself if the fallout is worth it.
      And if Livefyre ever sells to Google, I will personally hunt down Jordan Kretchmer and cover him in raw haggis… 😉

  9. says

    Googe = search – end of.
    Thing is, they do search so well.
    Still amazes me when you get 50 million responses in 0.03 seconds – fabulous.
    “And now there’s the news of the Google comments system. Talk about throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the wall…”
    It will all end in tears.

  10. says

    Danny I agree with your post in regards to Google and disagree about facebook. facebook has had less money so they tried less so far. Open Graph? failure so far. Places? failed close. Brand pages? Not performing for brands. Storefronts? being shuttered. Social Gaming? Zynga disengaging from Facebook to more stand alone. facebook ads? making money but failure in performance which hurts Facebook not clients since you only pay for clicks. Beacon? Closed. New Pinterest/Spotify feeds? Spamming people’s feed.
    facebook lives and dies by that feed of updates from friends and family. And it has not improved the feed really since inception. Now we have so much clutter we engage with so little of our network.
    Where Google has had a problem vs facebook is they have been around a longer time. They have a gazillion dollars wasting away. They allow employees to spend 20% of their time dreaming up things not core to their business. And the products you mention for the most part get used so they don’t get killed.
    Where Google can succeed is they have to have a goal and laser like focus. The have the pieces to own the internet if they went for it. The problem is they have no visionary capable of taking them there.
    Seriously they should be allowing you to start with search take you to a site…buy a product…give you directions to get it….all with the google brand in a seamless vs clunky way.

    • says

       @HowieSPM I dunno, mate. Microsoft invested $240 million in 2007; it turned cash-flow positive in 2009; DST invested $200 million in the same year; Elevation Partners invested $120 million in 2010; and Goldman Sachs and DST invested $500 million last year. So they’ve not really been short of money.
      I’d say where Facebook has succeeded (and Google hasn’t) is that Google has cared more about what Facebook has done versus the other way round.
      Additionally, while certain areas of Facebook have failed, at least they’re still taking user feedback into consideration. Compare that to Google with its all-or-nothing approach to using its tools, and it’s clear to me that Google has lost way more than its way.
      We’ll see, I guess. :)

    • says

       @HowieSPM While I agree with you on many things friend, I don’t think the open graph was a flop. Look at many of the top websites out there and how users can login. Facebook is one of them. By logging in with Facebook, companies extract additional customer data that enables them to build a better customer persona and tailor individual marketing or sales experiences if they would like. So that data share is what makes a Facebook lethal to Google and appealing to companies. 

  11. says

    I might disagree with the title but the overall idea is good and I am with you on that… The thing is Google is big and search is something what makes it bigger as huge. This is another fact that Google is getting into everything but the point where I think its ok is the fact that many areas are there where Google is successful and usually Google turn down the areas where they got failed.
    Why I think it’s ok If Google is doing this is because everything is directly and indirectly connected with search, social media is the latest prove as now search engine is taking this as a ranking signal… but still Google is getting big with have a element called EVIL….

    • says

       @vps hosting Good points. The problem with Google’s approach is that they’re favouring their own products and platforms when it comes to search, and that’s making them a fairly big target for people like the FTC to get on their case.
      It’s a gamble, and one that might yet backfire.

  12. says

    Remember the days when Google was really good at everything  they did? And then came Wave…and Buzz…etc. etc. Makes you wonder what they are thinking. It’s kind of like ginidietrich ‘s post about Apple possibly buying Twitter. Stick to what you do well and excel at that. Sure, you can expand, but it has to make sense.

    • says

       @KenMueller  ginidietrich Part of me wonders if it’s because they lost the entrepreneurial mindset, mate, or at least the start-up hunger?
      There’s been a lot of talk lately about disgruntled employees leaving because the culture has shifted so much, especially since the focus on Google+ came about. Interesting to see how that game eventually plays out…

  13. Leon says

    G’Day Danny,
    A few months back Laura Ries wrote a post about Google’s rampant line extensions  on her blog “Ries’ Pieces”.  Look it up if you haven’t seen it. I’m  sure you’ll ebjoy it/
    . Best Wishes

  14. says

    I am using Twitter past 2 months to optimize my software company website.Although i am happy with the output,but want to be serious with twitter to get best from it…As i am  newbie,can you please guide me with your ideas and experience,although i lied your  ideas and give it a  try…Waiting for your response!!

  15. says

    Can you imagine the heartburn at Googleplex whenever the topic of Pinterest comes up?
    Google, with its billions of dollars and armies of software engineers could not do with Google+ what a scrappy startup did by becoming the fastest growing social network, and with a dedicated user base to boot
    A lot of people are scared of putting all their online eggs in the Google basket, and this is what Big G seems to miss. People have a natural suspicion when it comes to near monopolies and generally favour competition. The Internet is already spooked by Facebook baking parts of itself into millions of third party websites, and when Google decides to go down that road too, well…you get to the present situation.
    Should Google venture into social? Why not. But it would definitely do better if it can tone down the Shock and Awe and use more brains than brawn.

    • says

       @bhas Ironically, the Pinterest comparison is a perfect one, as that reminds me of the Google spirit and ideal when they first started. Although they seem to be experiencing the whole copyright thing in the way that Google has been consistently hit with the privacy thing – so maybe not so different after all. 😉
      Cheers, mate!

      • Mark Longbottom says

         @DannyBrown  @bhas And now Pinterest changing the Copyrigh to a certain extent starting April 6, after listening to a certain extent. Are Google listening though? Will there be a reclaim the internet movement from people sick of being stuck in the Google Search bubble?

        • says

           @Mark Longbottom  @DannyBrown This whole Google Search bubble thing is really insidious and frightening. It’s more so because on the face of it, the whole idea sounds really good- customising your search experience and results so that you get what you want.
          But I might be looking for something that is not what Google’s data about me says I usually look. I might be a vegetarian searching for examples of animal cruelty. If Google’s bubble is taken to it’s extreme, I won’t get any results at all.
          I liked the old Google better- a dumb algorithm spewing out results based on technical parameters. When you try to make an algorithm intelligent and when it deals with billions of searches daily, things don’t turn out well sometime.

        • Mark Longbottom says

           @bhas  @DannyBrown perfect and what mroe and mroe people may turn against Google for and try to reclaim the internet.  I am told Duck Duck Go and Bing do what google did int eh beginning give you open search. We shall see

        • Mark Longbottom says

           @bhas  @DannyBrown perfect and what more and more people are turning against Google for and trying to reclaim the internet.  I am told Duck Duck Go and Bing do what google did in the beginning by giving you open search. We shall see

  16. says

    Hey there matey…. I love the  “let’s copy Facebook” line… it is too true and shows that a once innovative company can no longer just stick to what they are good just to try to stay popular. Kind of like those kids in high school who did things just t o be cool or get attention. 

  17. AjntB2Sli says

    @ginidietrich I always enjoy your videos even if at times I don’t agree with them, and your website looks great! Happy #NationalCleavageDay

  18. RobFontano says

    Regardless of how badly Google wants to be “All” the social network is not ready and probably never will be to put all of its social in one basket. Google gamed the world when they canned third party reviews from their places listing. A move that coincided with the release of Google+. The push to force businesses to encourage their customers to sign up for Gmail accounts that would allow them to replenish their reviews on Places. “Do no evil” went out the window a long timer ago.

  19. RobFontano says

    Regardless of how badly Google wants to be “All” the social network is not ready and probably never will be to put all of its social in one basket. Google gamed the world when they canned third party reviews from their places listing. A move that coincided with the release of Google+. The push to force businesses to encourage their customers to sign up for Gmail accounts that would allow them to replenish their reviews on Places. “Do no evil” went out the window a long time ago.

    • says

       @RobFontano Great points, Rob. The minute you start being biased towards your own products/services when you’re meant to be an open platform is the minute you start to fail as a service.

  20. says

    Danny, your article seems to be very realistic. Google wants to be the King of throne….without having command over all those aspects …..We as user dont want to be limted to Google products..we want to have a free life….we watn to be free to choose what ever we want…

    • says

       @vikassingal It’s no wonder that Google’s being investigated by the Monopolies Commission as well as the FTC. So much for “not being evil”…

  21. says

    It’s funny, because the more Google pushes their products, the more I want to distance myself from them. They just added Google “play” for example. I believe this will be the year that I close my gmail account for good.

    • says

       @Brendan7 I deleted my G+ account completely and when I went to check my Analytics, they were trying to force me to upgrade to Google+ before accessing my Analytics. Screw that – that is one crappy approach.

  22. Danny Brown says

    Art – There’s always the fear that something can become too big to stop. Then again, Facebook has about twice the amount of data on its users than any other network, so maybe we should be looking at them. 😉

  23. Danny Brown says

    Mike Agree, mate. Keeping the startup mentality is hard (though Twitter seems to have done a good job of it). Interesting thoughts on striking deals with FB and Twitter – makes sense, but then we know sense never comes into play where big corps are involved. 😉

  24. Mike Ashworth says

    perhaps they’ll all be so desperate to keep their walled garden with regard to people to serve adverts too and therefore make money, that they’ll end up losing out to someone who sees the world through different eyes and views collaboration as being in everyone’s best interests.

  25. Art Graham says

    Danny, I worked for IBM for over 10 years. Some things get so big they can’t get out of their own way.

  26. says

    I also thought about this fact. I never knew that Google has launched so many products. While I was reading an article I came across some products, that made me visit Google’s product page and there we have hundreds of products. Many are not at all known and the known ones are also losing its rank in the competition.