Note on November 2015: Turns out, I was right back in 2011 when I wrote this…)
In thinking about Eric Schmidt’s remarks this week at D9, I’ve got to say that Google seems to still be completely blind to the real issue behind their lack of success in being social. And it’s not because Eric Schmidt forgot or got sidetracked. The reason has more to do with core competencies of companies based on their foundational beginnings and their original value.
Google has always created value by serving up search results that hit the spot, delight us, and get us ready to buy. That comes from a deep focus and expertise on ferreting out the algorithm that connects the need behind our wording, what’s available on the web, how it’s described, and what might not be said but what’s actually in our minds. Google has created a form of artificial intelligence that is predictive, reactive, learned, and synthesized. They bring together our search history, where we are, the words we enter, in what context those words often occur, the psychology of how that relates to what is on the web, and, of course, how websites portray themselves.
Facebook, on the other hand, has from the beginning created value by connecting people up – in whatever way made sense to the founders. Connecting up for dates, friendship, whatever – but the KEY here is CONNECTION. And everything Facebook does is about that connection: enabling, reinforcing, offering, highlighting, expanding, and so on. All Facebook’s coding is directed towards that and now connection is what makes the money happen for Facebook.
So here is what we have: Google’s value and focus has been to find stuff for us using the most advanced engineering possible and Facebook’s value and focus is to get us and keep us connected using their most advanced engineering possible. Google is an engineering company at heart and Facebook is a social graph company. And that is why Google doesn’t do social well – and shouldn’t focus on it. Their core competency and the brilliance of their engineers is in doing what they do: artificial intelligence in finding the needle – or the grain of sand – in the haystack. And that will continue to be absolutely crucial in our village gone global world.
Facebook will continue to push the bounds of connection and probably continue to not do search well – a reflection of their core competency and brilliance in social connection, not ‘finding things’ engineering. (A note about Facebook search: internal Facebook search is still Facebook’s effort and it’s bad – I understand they use Bing for the external results and that’s not what I’m talking about – try to find a person or page when you don’t know the first word in the title or name – ugh!).
In summary, my advice to Google => continue to capitalize on your incredible core strengths and don’t squander your resources on other areas of expertise that are completely different. My advice to Facebook => you better get clear on what you really do well – connection – and up the ante because you’ve got contenders coming along that are going to eat you alive. The moral to the story for the rest of us: be clear about your unique brilliance and stick to it – no one is everything to everyone and no business has been that for very long with any success.