94 thoughts on “Slide, Vic Gundotra & The Un-Social Reality of Google”

  1. Om, you’ve nailed it. I’ve expressed the same feelings about Google but you’re a writer & story teller and I’m not 🙂

    Your point in social about lacking emotion/empathy is so true. They can’t compete in any arena that requires it. They also can’t compete where it takes a right brain, anything in the liberal arts area (interfaces, design, etc) – This was obvious to me the minute they analyzed browser blues and spent over a year studying left column navigation. And, they can’t hire the deficiencies away. The deficiency is in the corporate DNA, starts at the top and goes to the bottom.

    Of course I don’t expect them to realize this but Facebook and Apple will always beat them. And all this will dilute/marginalize them in advertising (especially mobile) as well. One analyst downgraded them today and feels their glory days are over. I wouldn’t be surprised.

  2. Thought provoking post – Thanks

    The argument that since you have been not able to spot a new social trend you should not even attempt to latch on to something another person is successful at is false. Practice makes a man perfect. Only if you keep on experimenting with things, be it copy or me-too’s or something new , you will land on something that works.

    Apple , ryan air , Microsoft all took ideas from someother place and experimented to ultimately land on something successful.

    1. Maybe if it’s a static, spec type of thing – These are all moving targets being steered by people that already get it and have the mental requirements. Google may hit on something completely new/novel but they certainly haven’t shown that ability since their original search theory.

    2. Om – In the baseball cricket case – I would argue that you did not try hard enough to learn baseball.

      Further, if you mastered baseball also- I am sure you would have brought some tricks to the baseball world based on your learning’s in the cricket world

      1. Niraj

        You are being presumptuous to assume that I didn’t hard enough. I did and well when things don’t work out you gotta move on. 🙂

        SatyaVachan! (for OM comment)

  3. I agree with neeraj…

    Small companies can take certain risk and try out various things and one in 1000 clicks…big companies have to leverage their market position by grabbing those successful companies….I am glad they are buying successful companies rather than inventing on their own….google would have not build android with out equipping it…and android could have not grown so big without google leverage it’s market musle…

    What google could do to innovate is incubate/fund some successful smaller companies….to get it’s presence….rope the talent pool of some smaller innovative companies…

    Facebook is just doing that in more crude way by buying successful small companies to build as core team….that is a smart move by them which google should leverage it’s position….

    apple wouldn’t be unstoppable if google has not entered android…

    Appengine is very innovative platform…where google has some core strengths….

    Btw, OM since you are cricket fan try out cricwaves.com for live cricket with audio bytes…it is built on google app engine….and it scales really well…at times 500 requests/sec….

  4. Finally a good, neutral post for Google from a Valley reporter. I am a Valley guy but have always felt that idiots at Techchurnch like blogs have taken tech journalism to lowest level. I can relate to cricket and baseball analogy. It feels the same and you think you can do it but it is not…

  5. Who’re the people running Facebook? I don’t buy it, the entire silicon valley is run by geeks. Feeding virtual cows would sound pathetically geeky and socially inept 10 years ago, now huge numbers of idiots are doing it. Computer geeks don’t understand human? they’re practically shaping your social life these days.

    1. +1. Agree.

      FB is a piece of junk. Just a webpage hosting company being hyped and marketed as some sort of new thing. Most silicon valley VC backed companies do nothing but hype and market.

      VC backed AD supported non-sensical bogus DOT COM companies are back in vogue. FB, Twit, Linkedin,…… We never learned our lesson.

      Appeal to LP’s: Take your money back from VC’s and run!!! This bubble is about to burst all over again.

  6. IMO, Google should not look at games as the secret sauce for its social networking venture. Google is supposed to be the expert at organizing information and making it accessible in useful ways. Google should focus its efforts in helping its users organize their personal information and share it with others at varying levels of granularity.

    I don’t like to plug in my website in these comments, but in this case I think it is relevant. I described a fictitious Google product called Lifeline: http://tech.desiblogs.net/2009/04/notes-from-future-introducing-google.html . I believe that this product could easily become Google’s social networking platform.

  7. While I agree with your point that Google’s products are more about getting specific tasks done than hanging out and having fun online, I fail to see how empathy or the lack thereof is the problem. After all, Facebook isn’t your doctor or priest, it’s just a website. Facebook succeeds as a social networking site because it provides an integrated environment for services that are essential for people’s social interaction: status update, sharing photos/videos, event organization, groups, etc. There is nothing inherently “empathetic” about any of these services; they just suit the job (i.e. social interaction) better than services from other companies. Case in point: okcupid.com (probably the best dating site in terms of UI and functionality) is run by a group of Harvard applied MATHEMATICIANS! It doesn’t matter if these people might not be the best lady’s men in the world; they just have to provide a solid product that has the necessary functionalities (e.g. IM, messaging, profile filtering, matching) with a good UI. It seems that Google’s problem is more with product design and management than with the vague notion of “empathy”.

    1. Except Google is not that great at UI either :). Sure, you might like a few of their products for their “simplicity” but the kind of simplicity they are thinking doesn’t always equal great UI.

      Google lacks the culture of UI/design, and their idea of simplicity probably came from the fact that they didn’t know to design any better, either.

      Coders are usually different from designers – different as in coders “usually” can’t design, and “designers” can’t code. I believe Google has created, from the beginning, a culture of coders, and this culture has kept feeding itself by allowing even more coders inside, and keeping the “designer types” ((and the ones with more empathy as Om says) outside(you do know about Google’s interviewing system, right?).

      In fact, a few years ago, a good designer they hired, left blaming this type of culture. You can read about it here:


      1. Completely agree. This is the same reason Netscape (not the browser war) lost while Yahoo gained as content site in 90s. And Google could be next to lose the search race or apps if they continue with simplicity mantra which works great with geeks and coders. Never under estimate the power of UI in world of consumers. Mint.com is just one of the example how a rich UI driven we base software can achieve in a short time while quicken loses the race of personal financial management tool race. (Quicken ended the game with buying Mint.com)

  8. Twitter only benefits few famous people with many followers (like you). Facebook is a piece of cake and highly over valued, it does very little revenue and no profit.

    That doesn’t mean there is no future in social networks. Twitte and facebook just aren’t it.

    Google needs to work on making the right type of social service. They are bringing in Features of Wave and Buzz into Google Me, simplifying the UI and optimizing the usability of all the features, then opening the protocol, like open social but better. Google doesn’t expect many users for all their products. Nexus One, Wave, Buzz didn’t have many users, but they are huge successes in terms of technology unleashings onto the market, NExus One spurred a huge growth in Android ecosystem projecting it on top of all smart phone sales in the USA and soon worldwide, Wave and Buzz are hugely acclaimed among developers demonstrations of open technologies that are to be part of the finalized open social networking platform.

  9. Om,
    what a great way to say what a lot of your readers feel about google’s attempts.

    “But what it can’t do is internalize empathy”.

    now, a lot of very smart people still work at google and i hope enough of them are still hungry enough to innovate beyond Chasing Social.

  10. What is so funny about all of this, is that Google did have people who gorked Social Networks, like the Orkut Büyükkökten guy, but just took his network, and tried to fit it with everything else.

    Now if they had only just left it alone…

    Google should just stick with making it more interesting to search social networks.. that’s it.

  11. If, according to you, Google’s search dominance is increasingly being squeezed between Facebook and Twitter on one side and Apple’s goal-oriented, task-specific mobile apps paradigm, on the other, then Google’s doing pretty good in battering to a pulp, the Apple side of the squeeze. Notwithstanding that these apps are increasingly on inevitably dominating mass Android devices, apps are a stop-gap measure as more and more powerful devices and faster networks point to the largely browser-based future running on mobile OSes, most likely Google’s. Apple’s elitist DNA don’t do mass markets where Google’s the one trick Clydesdale.

    So, you say Google doesn’t do social well, although Google Buzz on Mobile is pretty good. You should be grateful that there are companies like Google that keep on experimenting with things, be it copy or me-too’s or something new, that will hopefully land on something that works, instead of something like Apple that keeps spewing out overhyped overpriced Digitally Clueless Beauty Pageant Queen products. Baseball and cricket teaches you to keep trying to hit even if you don’t succeed alot of times, keep swinging that bat.

  12. Om, good points but with all due respect, I disagree.

    Google may be late to the game, but high ambitions + tons of cash — not necessarily but — may be equal to success. So I wouldn’t cross Google off.

    Google has very smart people who do understand social; for example Brad Fitzpatrick, the father of memcache (the core technology that empowers Facebook and others) and OpenID (ancestor of Facebook Connect) is with them. And the Slide acquisition shows that they’re keen to add even more talent in. They’re making great business partnerships. These are all good signs. Better than just sitting and watching what’s happening while Facebook diminishes their percentage in the global online advertising revenues pie.

    1. Emre

      I wouldn’t discount them either. I guess if you spend enough money and wait long enough you will get it right — sort of like Bing and Microsoft. I think the point I am making is that unless it is part of your DNA, it is much harder to play a game that has been mastered by some else.

      That said, there are many other options for Google to be going for and trying to master — ones that leverage their skills as a fearsome engineering machine. In fact that might be topic of another post in itself.

      1. How is FB different than google in DNA? They are all engineers – significant number of FB guys worked at google once. @ev of twitter is a google ex and IMHO the most thoughtful and deliberate in the social software world.

        If you said that myspace has a different DNA , I would agree since these guys truly lived in a non-engineering centric world. EG: Hulu has a different DNA than Youtube because the investors and the founders have a different understanding of the Media MArket

      2. Few people seem to remember that it was actually (in my opinion) Brad that started social networking as we know it today. Friendster came out after Livejournal. Livejournal was the first site to enable users to create “Friends” and “Friends of” lists that induced reciprocity of linking, and actually were the first to create newsfeeds in the form of their “Friends” page (which was a compilation of all your friend’s posts, all on one page). Of course, it was sixdegrees that started the concept of listing your friends, but back then users did not have the tools to generate the content (photos) that would take these things over the hump and into our daily lives.

        There are people within Google that get Social, I am sure of it. The problem as you point out is that there are probably people in Google who don’t get it and never will, and the question is whether Google as an org can deal with this DNA impurity. Can the bad DNA recognize it is bad and let the good DNA get to work? That is the self awareness Google needs to achieve to get what it wants. I see them acquiring Slide as a positive sign that they are on the right path.

        As for Zynga beating Slide (in games), I do not think this is an indicator that Zynga has stronger Social DNA. Don’t forget that Slide had a bulk of the top apps on facebook in the early days.. Funwall (which FB then killed by incorporating the capabilities of it into their standard wall feature), Top Friends, My Questions (Quora was not the first), and Superpoke when app virality was more a free market, more unfettered by the host.

        But then maybe 3 months after F8 launched, FB started choking off viral channels…they didn’t see what value apps were adding as a whole, except for the games who later started to buy FB ads and then later could implement FB credits. So by choking off viral channels, they simultaneously killed off non-monetizing apps and promoted game apps that bought their ads. This is why Zynga got big while Slide shrank.

        But that does not mean that in a free-market environment, games are inherently the most social app (in fact, it’s pretty obvious photos are even more social). Gaming was the biggest type of app because FB made it so. Slide’s position was not a reflection of lack of social DNA, it was reflection of the fact that they were building apps with scale as the objective (arguably an indicator of being more social) and not revenue (where they could pay FB)

        The truth is Slide has and has always had strong Social DNA. I am not saying this because Max is one of my closest friends, nor because I was a small shareholder of Slide stock… I am saying this because I was close enough to Slide to know, and I hope I have enough credibility as an empathic product guy myself to have some level of credibility in being able to spot it.

        If Google pigeonholes max into just thinking about gaming then I agree that is a problem. But if they are willing to unleash his intuitiveness (and Brad’s) about what makes things Social on all of their products, and new products, then it is a sign that Google’s bad social DNA is starting to get out of the way of its strong social DNA, and in fact is working actively to get more strong social DNA into the company.

        The truth is that Max now has the distribution of Google to work with, and can implement social in a free marketplace (the internet) rather than a rigged one.

        I think this town finally has a viable underdog to root for.

  13. This is really all about money, or should I say “virtual money”. Google knows that Facebook is about to go supernova when they start printing money as people begin purchasing virtual goods (meaning nothing but specs on a managed server) using Facebook Credits virtual currency. Facebook is going to be raking in absolutely mind boggling amounts of cash every minute as people spend real money on virtual gifts to give their friends, throw at their friends, poke their friends with etc.

    Their has never been this amount of money and level of smart IT companies chasing this type of opportunity…ever! Monetizing via virtual currency is going to bring unspeakable wealth to those that do it well, and social game companies have figured it out first.

  14. you don’t need empathy and emotion to succeed in social. Facebook and Twitter aren’t solving world poverty, you only need to understand one thing: people are exhibitionist and voyeuristic. I have no problem with you saying Google doesn’t get social (which I think it’s because social is bloody useless, Google makes useful products), but please, saying engineers have no empathy and emotion is simply rubbish.

  15. Awesome post, dude! Google is intelligence (=”the algorithm”) at the core, Facebook is intelligence (= people) at the edge. Edge intelligence always wins – the phone company model with intelligence in the switches and dumb telephones at the edges was replaced by a network of dumb routers at the core with workstations and mini computers at the edge (in the 80’s/90’s).
    One Internet old timer once asked me – “where is the edge of the Internet?” – I was thinking Akamai etc but he said “at your keyboard”. Facebook reaches out and pulls that intelligence in from 500 million keyboards. Google tries to orchestrate those keyboards via 500,000 servers.

    You nailed it with the “empathy” point. It was profound – are you in love, or something?

    1. I have no opinion on the main topic. But your claim that “the phone company model with intelligence in the switches and dumb telephones at the edges was replaced by a network of dumb routers at the core with workstations and mini computers at the edge (in the 80′s/90′s)” is patently false. “Stupid Network” paper not withstanding.

      The telecom switches route traffic just as stupidly as Internet routers.

      1. Hi Aswath,

        The time it refers to is the 80’s/90’s and the bigger point is not the core but the edges – the wireline phone company has a model where the edge – the telephone is a dumb device. That was the point. Yes one could argue that the routing function of the switch is similar to internet routers but with the phone company that’s the sum total of intelligence in the network not so with the ‘net.

  16. Om,

    Sorry, but this post reads like your baseball skills…you’re swinging hard but just aren’t connecting.

    It’s not a lack of empathy or too much goal-oriented behavior that’s holding Google back, and the opposite definitely isn’t a reason for Facebook’s success (picture Mark Zuckerberg…does the word “empathetic” come to mind??)

    Serendipity won’t (and doesn’t have to) replace search in the social web. Rather, the social web (or just FB) will create a whole new index of links/status updates/likes/and personal info that Google doesn’t have access to. You don’t have to beat Google on algorithms when they can’t index your content.

    Also, Google hasn’t totally failed at social – they just haven’t evenly distributed their successes yet. Ask anyone who works at Google how much they love Buzz…it’s a run-away success when the network dynamics are right.

    Why is Google struggling with social? Google doesn’t like to (or doesn’t know how to) bait users – while Facebook excels at it. (The same might explain Slide vs. Zynga). With Scamville, etc…there’s a lot not to like about the behaviors/mechanics of the social web and for now Google has chosen to not play dirty. It just might turn out that’s the cost of admission in today’s social web.

      1. Does it count as a mass-market success? Definitely not. But it shows that Google is capable of building social products – they just didn’t have the right network dynamics in place (mixing personal and private networks was a disaster for security/privacy/and sometimes even sharing in general)

    1. Adam,

      Thanks for your very insightful dismissal of my argument. I respectfully disagree with you and only time would tell if Google will succeed.

      I think serendipity will replace search. We are amidst a behavior shift — and when that happens, search starts to lose some of its control.

      Of course, the beauty of the web, is if I am wrong, you will remind me of that and I will eat crow. 🙂

      As for Buzz and its success, I will let PXlated’s comment stand.

      1. The point around – Google has chosen to not play dirty- is something I agree with. I trust google more with my data than I trust FB.

        Privacy has not yet become the deterministic factor on winning the Social software war. My guess is that to get to the next level of maturity , privacy will be very important.

  17. Googls has always been essentially a startup cultured organization who did not fear anything nor thought only about the profits. Google has always relied on great technology innovations. But more and more these days, Google is loosing that startup DNA and behaving like Microsoft who think that buying out more companies will add value but dont get that value in reality. Aquisitions and Copy-efforts are no substitute for Technology and Innovation.

  18. I agree that Google is effectively a one-trick pony in terms of search, however as long as it is able to do that one task better than anyone else, it can be argued that other, newer internet services boost Google as much as Google boosts them.

  19. Facebook is also run by geeks. FYI the best way to create a social network is get users data and make it public by default at a later date. Then you get tons of voyeurs ( all of us are, many dont admit) and tons of pageviews and so on. Having a neat interface doesnt hurt.

  20. google is not good at branding. If they build a Facebook clone called “google me” and hire a proper ad firm they’ll do well

  21. everyone is going on and on about facebook. no one wants another facebook. facebook is myspace for geriatrics. soon to be another bore.

  22. To say Google is good at one thing, search, is wrong. Do you know how many people use gmail? As far as Microsoft goes, I wouldn’t call XBox 360 a flaming pile of fail. I’m skipping Facebook and I run into people all the time who are either leaving it or haven’t signed on in months.

  23. What you’re describing is that Google’s culture is preventing them from making social work for them. Combine this with the innovators dilemma and you have a possible lethal combination. It’s the same reason why Microsoft has been struggling on multiple fronts.

    It can be done though. IBM re-invented itself a number of times. But maybe spinning off a social arm with it’s own culture that’s conducive to social innovation is what Google needs.

  24. Google has a few issues that appear to regularly cause them to get into their own way:
    * they have a tendency to aim to disrupt (which comes with a great risk of failure)
    * they too often prioritize geek features over more mainstream consumer needs (ie they tend to build for themselves not the general marketplace)
    * too many geeks! there Product Managers have a tendency to be CS grads (there product design is driven by code, formulas and mathematical proofs not for example artistic tendencies that rely more on gut instincts or cultural trends.) Facebook staffers are a hell of a lot more hip and can differentiate between the pulse of society and Mountain View.
    * legacy. Google is an older, bigger corp with a lot of legacy tech, products, projects, and solutions. one would be amazed how often that gets in the way. there is also a lot of beauracracy and politics, you can’t ship something without jumping through a ton of hoops (last time they took some risk they had Buzz and that incident alone has caused them to dial back the ‘release early and often’ to where it was before)
    * a strong fist with ideals but weak integration. Marissa has had a strong grip on the look and feel of the site and it has caused projects to conform to a google way of doing business that might not be ideal for that project/service. google needs to either more tightly integrate all of their products/services or allow their brand identities to go rogue.
    * and more than anything there is no top-down vision of what a consolidated Google should try to be for consumers today and tomorrow (they are too busy trying to kill, destroy and disrupt)

    BTW if you look at recent Facebook product launches they have been no better. Do you really think Questions was a successful launch? It was pathetic.

    Engineers are generally not good product managers. Facebook is lucky to have a leader that is a great engineer and product manager. Google is not so lucky and is mostly full of arrogant engineers who by and large think product managers add no value and aren’t following a great engineering product visionary ceo with a singular vision.

  25. If only Google understood people like Zuckerberg does…

    This is such an absurd meme. Do you really think that Zuckerberg is more of a “people person” than the people running Google?

    1. How much time do you spend on Facebook, especially interacting with your friends or people you care about. I think the answer to that question is what would give me context to your comment and thus allow me to reply.

      1. I spend almost no time on FaceBook because I don’t trust them. I would love to see the web social-enabled with an easy and reliable way to make posts private or public.

  26. Nitin:

    If the telephone device is dumb, it is a choice made by the end-users. Is PBX a dumb device? How about Fax/data modem? From 80s/90s, I have a telephone app on my desktop that can control PSTN line and can use TAPI to run custom apps on top of it. If there has not been further advancement, the fault is not with the telcos. I have to conclude that there is not much demand.

  27. Great post, Om! At its most basic, the Google DNA simply can’t change to embrace social.

    [Site link coming: I review web products and services and certain factors are required for success: MOBILE, HYPERLOCAL, REAL-TIME and SOCIAL. Google is doing a great job at migrating to the mobile web. They are poor at hyperlocal information but have the potential to compete on that plane. Real-time is not what they were built for and all their efforts at real-time search/response are really band-aid solutions. SOCIAL is beyond their reach. They have nothing in their past, in their leadership, in their infrastructure, in their service that fosters social interaction. A major achilles heel and a huge opening for Facebook.]

    Technology rankings here: http://brianshall.com/products/rankings

  28. Nice narrative, Om. I see two elements on this one that seem to bode poorly for Google in the social realm. One is the fact that Google’s loosely coupled culture is (seemingly) at odds from a user experience perspective with the tight integration approach of Facebook.

    Two is the fact that at some point it seems like Apple and Facebook strategically align with one another to attack Google, as their market positions, core competencies, weaknesses and relative enemies seem to favor such an outcome.

    What would Google do then?

      1. Perhaps, the dual trigger is when: A) Facebook is ready to launch their “social-powered” search engine; and B) Android momentum drives Apple/Facebook to offer developers a composite software platform play to outflank the Android approach.

      2. Uh, no one ever partnered successfully with Apple when they were underdogs. It is inconceivable that Apple would successfully partner with someone now that they are the most successful tech company on our planet.

        Seriously, if you think Google has the asocial gene, you have to see that Apple has the apartner gene.

      3. @Edwin, Apple seemed to partner pretty darn well with Google, and it would be hard to argue that their’s was an unsuccessful partnership, save for GOOGLE co-opting Apple’s strategy. You may frame this as an underdogs v. gorilla thing, but Facebook is hardly an underdog in their domain (500M users, $1B+ business), and counter to your assertion, Apple is hardly like Microsoft, partnering so as to co-opt. Apple, generally speaking, has pretty clear lines of delineation during the Jobs era between partner v. build. If anything, it is Apple’s asocial gene that leads them to partner with Facebook v. build in-house.

  29. I think it’s important that Schmidt has come out and said Google does not have to churn out a Facebook clone, because if they did, it would inevitably fail. While it’s certainly a concern to Google that more and more people are spending time on social networks, remember that Google is still the number one place people visit to learn and discover. All Google needs to do is add the slightest social layer on top of that discovery of information. I would argue that accomplishing this doesn’t require a core competency in social, but merely a solid understanding of the online space and a reality check regarding their own “corporate DNA.” I think Google’s efforts in social will be minimal to start, yet still significant enough to make an impact on it’s position in the social space and ultimately support and extend its core ad business.

  30. Serendipity replaces search and goal oriented, task specific paradigms – what the heck do they even mean? All this gobbledygook notwithstanding, search may become even more important in the future as people try to find real information in the ocean of social junk. I understand that for all its efforts Google hasn’t succeeded in generating a significant revenue stream out of anything but search (and that includes Android) but how much revenue does Facebook generate? Google clearly needs to diversify but it is premature to say that Google is on its way to becoming the next IBM/Microsoft.

  31. “On one side, the social web is moving toward a future where serendipity replaces search.”

    was struggling to find that line – well put, sir.

  32. I get the post. Google is trying to follow the SOCIAL trends. They should stick to their bread and butter of owning search. But social is entirely too large of space for them to ignore. So they have to make some inroads into the space whether through the purchase of Slide or creating the ill conceived Buzz.

  33. Google does not do social, it does numbers, search, algorythms and analytics.

    For me that is their problem in a sentence.
    Example… I happily used Youtube, a little… now I have to Log in with a google account and not my password. That’s too much the wrong way round for me. If they want me to log in through my account, they should do it for me when I use my password. Its these little things that say, we are in control of you, and not we are in control of them that makes me dislike them.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am pretty sure you will convey your meaning by keeping at it, for right now I quite don’t get it. If you are trying a hand at sarcasm, I recommend getting to the point instead.

  34. I really love the cricket/baseball story, great! 🙂

    There is a video on CNN.com about the links between baseball and cricket you might like.

  35. Google does search exceedingly well.

    They also have social media for people with ample attention span, blogs on blogspot.com or blogger.com.

    Doing both puts Google in a fix. For example consider that Google has a customer in Asia that pays to advertise for top spots in a search for “international school for global indians”. The search result could (as they do!) include not only the school’s own web content but also unflattering truths about the school appearing on Google owned social media.

    And, I guess Google wouldn’t tweak search results or censor speech as a matter of principle.

    I don’t think that is a good way to do business in many Asian countries ! At the least, it puts Google in a fix about its priorities.

    Should Google follow their paying customer and scrub the search results ? Even news papers in India such as the Times of India (paid news and private treaties) do such scrubbing in reporting. Can Google survive without ?

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