Be it a move as big as an acquisition or as small as a feature adjustment, Google is seemingly doing everything it can to be more social. Could this be a sign that the rumored Google Me social network is real? Maybe. Let’s take a look at a handful of Big G’s moves over the last couple weeks, and what Facebook is doing to prepare for battle.
Google + Slide
After rumors of Google Me first surfaced, Big G continued to stir the pot with their acquisition of social gaming specialist, Slide Inc. At the time of purchase (US$ 182 million), Google engineering director David Glazer said the company would be "investing even more to make Google services socially aware."
Though Slide typically develops applications for networks like Facebook and MySpace, adding such a team of developers with years of experience in the social networking arena sounds more like Google's style. It's being seen by many as a push to create new ways for users to interact with Google offerings across the Web—an effort further highlighted by the appointing of Vic Gundotra, Vice President of engineering, to oversee it.
Google + Jambool
Google acquired Jambool and it's Social Gold payment product just a week after picking up Slide. Founded by ex-Amazon kids Vikas Gupta and Reza Hussein, Social Gold gives app developers the ability to build payments directly into games and other applications.
This could easily be seen as a way to compete with Facebook Credits, which Gupta is in strong opposition of:
"Pre-paid systems have traditionally had limited success. They’ve had lower conversion and lower adoption because people have to commit to buying more up front, even though they don’t know how much they’ll spend or in what amounts," he pointed out. "That leads to breakage. An example is Amazon gift certificates — you could buy them but there’s always a large amount of remnant value on the card that isn’t used. In an economy like this platform, that will lead to developers never seeing the value even though they created it."
Further, Gupta says there's no way Facebook credits could operate like the Euro (across economies). This is because applications do not contribute to the currency. His example:
"…problems in Greece’s economy resulted in the entire Euro being affected. However, any one application on the Facebook platform cannot disrupt Credits or any other application. Instead of a universal currency, it works as a stored value system."
It's important to note that Google hasn't said a word about whether or not these pieces will form a social networking space, but that certainly hasn't stopped the speculation.
"Google has said little, but their acquisitions and the rumors certainly seem to add up to the conclusion that Google is planning something big in the social networking space," said Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Thus far, Google has made acquisitions and launched social applications that were largely unconnected from each other and from the core Google consumer experience. With their next and much-anticipated launch, my expectation is that we'll see a cohesive offering that moves social into the center of the Google experience."
"I think it's obvious that Google wants to become the primary — if not only — stop on the Internet," added Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "Which means they need to not only dominate search, but also to become the biggest player in social networking."
Preparing for War
How is Facebook dealing with the pressure? Apparently by instituting a lockdown. That is, founder Mark Zuckerberg has been getting engineers to come in on the weekends.
"We hear Zuckerberg even has a neon sign saying 'Lockdown' on his office door," reported Anthony Ha.
In the words of both Kurt Vonnegut and Billy Joel: So it goes. And yet, though the battle lines have clearly been drawn and nobody knows what Facebook's next move will be, the doom and gloom might be further off that it seems.
Take the death of Google Wave, for example.
"Google's failure rate with these new attempts is rather impressive — and their inability to pull much revenue or profit from even the successful ones [makes that even] more so," Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group. "Given their track record, the odds are not in favor of this working out particularly well."
What do you think?