Google Gearing Up For Social Media War With Facebook

Over the last couple of months Google has been preparing to launch their own social networking platform; rumoured to be called Google Me. Whilst Google have already tried (and failed) to add a social media element to their plethora of online utilities in the past, their nearest rival Facebook probably have a little more to be worried about this time.

The Google Logo

Google Buzz was the search-giant's first attempt to build a popular social media infrastructure; trying to leverage their millions of Googlemail users into a pre-built network. Unfortunately the service suffered from a lack of any real forethought, meaning users could connect with each other but that's about it. Buzz failed exactly where Facebook succeeded; there was a distinct lack of social applications, games and interactive elements that users could share. Oh and it also failed because people hated the idea of immediately being connected with a million people they didn't want to have their contact information, raising numerous concerns about privacy and user data.

On the second attempt however, Google look like they have learn from their previous mistakes; instead of building their own social media platform from scratch, Google appear to be building a central hub for social games and social applications, in the hope that people come to them naturally.

The way they’ve gone about this however, makes Google look like they’re far more serious this time round. As a Facebook spokesman recently stated:

Google failed to innovate on their own so now they’re throwing the chequebook at it

Throwing the check book at it they do indeed appear to be doing, with recent acquisitions of Jambool, Slide and Zynga for a reported $100m, $200m and $100m respectively.

The first of those three purchases (and the most recent), Jambool, are the markers of a virtual currency system used on numerous social media games, including those played on Facebook. The second, Slide, is a major application developer that works heavily on Facebook applications and games and the third is Zynga, the largest developer of social games in the world.

It’s clear that from their recent purchases Google do indeed appear to be throwing money at the problem, purchasing the developers making the most popular elements on sites like Facebook. It’s admittedly a little bit of a cynical approach but the bottom line is this is business, and it will probably work.

Facebook are still struggling with the privacy issues that have refused to go away for months and their main rival is purchasing the developers responsible for making half of the games and applications that helped make Facebook so popular in the first place. If I was Zuckerburg, I’d be genuinely worried.

Google are experts at using their financial position to leverage crucial deals and allow them to step into new areas of the market, confident that their brand is strong enough to hold water in any area.

What Google are effectively doing this time round is purchasing the people who made the Facebook games and applications so popular; they’re not just attempting to buy market share as they did previously, they’re actually buying the people behind the market share.

Google seems keen to point out however that it does not plan on producing a simple copy of Facebook with Google Me, instead suggesting they want to create something which goes beyond Facebook’s level of user interaction and retention.

Eric Schmidt, Google Chief Executive recently confirmed this approach, telling a US paper:

The world doesn’t need a copy of the same thing

Despite Google’s assurances that their social networking platform will be markedly different from Facebook, I just can’t see how it can be. What do they plan to add, remove or change that will separate Google Me from its main rival?

Let’s look at the information we have so far, Google Me looks so far like being a mixture of social communication, media sharing, social gaming and social applications, included in which is the use of a virtual currency (the applications for which are numerous).

Forgive me if I’m being a little flippant, but that sounds exactly the same to me. None of these elements aren’t currently featured on Facebook and short of adding a visual search element (it’s possible, see Google Goggles for an example) I’m unsure how they really expect to set themselves apart and take the market share currently possessed by Zuckerburg and his frankly annoying social media site.

What’s far more likely to happen (in my opinion), is Google will launch their social media platform and then leverage their dominance in the search market to increase their market share gradually, in the same way they did with their videos (YouTube) and maps (Google Maps). What I can imagine we’ll see is Google’s Me results being returned above Facebook results in searches for individual people, groups or pages. This could have the effect of cementing in the public’s mind the suggestion that Facebook is no longer the most relevant or popular social networking site in existence, furthering Google’s market share.

One problem Google might find it difficult to overcome is the issue of users simply not wanting to switch from Facebook, having spent so much time and effort building up their profile and contact base, as well as adding a myriad of photos, videos and other personal information and media. When faced with the option of moving to an entirely new network, users may be put off by having to start their social media profile and networking from scratch again.

As always, the ongoing battle between these two will be extremely interesting to watch, particularly given the stakes. The targeted advertising in place on sites like Facebook make billions per year for the company and with advertising online being one of the few strong monetisation models available to social meda platforms, whoever ends up on top once Google Me is launched stands to make huge profits from the endeavour.