July 13, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Google's antisocial downside

In the social-networking party sweeping the Web, search titan Google is playing the wallflower. Is it being smart or just plain nerdy?

MySpace.com, Facebook.com and others have turned heads for their skyrocketing traffic and massive appeal among young people, who flock to the sites by the millions to bond via photos, videos, blogs, e-mail and instant messaging. Meanwhile, top portals MSN and Yahoo, threatened by the prospect of losing favored-site ranking to MySpace, have begun to organize their applications around social networking, as well.

But Google's 2-year-old social network Orkut--which connects friends and friends of friends around shared interests, but does not include blogging or video features--has lagged in the popularity contest. It's still not widely available and has yet to adopt the Google brand. "It proved to be a problem for Google so now they're watching it," said Stephen Arnold, author of "The Google Legacy," referring to accusations that Orkut members promoted gang-related violence in countries like Brazil.

"It will be interesting over time to see how close Google can come to understanding people through algorithms."
--Esther Dyson, editor, Release 1.0

But as Google takes time to tinker with another one of its many young services, competitors are fast encroaching on the company's other turf.

Blogger, for example, was the Web's top blog-publishing tool when Google bought it in February 2003. Although Google hasn't turned the service into a full-on social network, Nielsen/NetRatings considers blogging a social activity.

In the last year, MySpace, which lets members include blogs on their personal pages, surpassed Google's Blogger as the top social-networking site by Nielsen's measure in the United States. In May 2006, Blogger had 20 million unique visitors, up 67 percent from May 2005. In contrast, MySpace drew 42 million unique visitors in May, up 329 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen.

Orkut fell below Nielsen's reporting cutoff at roughly 300,000 unique visitors.

According to Google, which responded via e-mail, the company is "committed" to social networking through Blogger, Google Video and Orkut. "Where it makes sense, Google continues to integrate its products to provide the best user experience possible, as with Gmail and Google Talk, for example," according to an unnamed spokesperson.

Of course, some proponents say Google is savvy not to invest heavily in services that have questionable benefit to its search and advertising business, which is worth near $6 billion annually. What's more likely, they say, is that Google will invest in technologies that can improve Web search and its rate of return on advertising "clicks."

"Fundamentally, information, not people, is Google's forte," said Esther Dyson, editor of tech newsletter Release 1.0, which is owned by CNET Networks, publisher of CNET News.com. "It will be interesting over time to see how close Google can come to understanding people through algorithms," she added.

The rival advantage
Onlookers have doubted the staying power of social networks like MySpace, calling them fads. But efforts to get into social networking by portals Microsoft and Yahoo show that the social services can resonate with Web surfers and prove beneficial to display and search-related advertising.

Microsoft, for example, is leveraging social networking to gain a tactical advantage over rival Google.

Moz Hussain, Microsoft group product manager at MSN Spaces, said that by incorporating social features into its blog publishing tool MSN Spaces, the company is driving consumer loyalty and ad revenue.

MSN Spaces, which was launched in December 2004, has become the most popular social network on a global basis, according to ComScore Networks. That's a fact the software giant attributes to social-networking features inserted last year that alert people to changes within friends' blogs via MSN instant messenger.

"The obvious way you make money is by generating a large number of page views and (displaying) ads against those pages," Hussain said. But he added that "if people use two of our products, they become much more valuable and use all of our products more."

The result has meant more display and search-related advertising, he said.

CONTINUED: Encroaching on search traffic…
Page 1 | 2

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Orkut.com, MSN Spaces, social networking, Esther Dyson, MySpace

15 comments

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i orkut
I orkut everyday!
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
PORTUGUESE
It is not portugese is PORTUGUESE. Damm it.
It is amazing how u americans like to underestimate everyone is not american. "Orkut is popular in countries of portugese language" ********, orkut is famous in Brazil. FULL STOP. Portugal has only 0,45% of users, againsta 67% of brazilians. Yet, google does not make money on it because they do not want it.
Posted by caxq (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Tomato-Tomatoe
Lets call the whole thing off.
Posted by msims (66 comments )
Link Flag
Get a grip, nobody used spellchecker
Get a grip, nobody used spellchecker. And keep your anti-American prejudices to yourself. South Americans should start producing something useful besides banana republics, political corruption, and drugs.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Link Flag
GOOG is smart to avoid...
...putting much effort into creating a big & popular global social networking site. As that firm has witnessed since the time of their purchase of ORKUT, the legal liability exposure vis mature content makes it an inane investment for them to fund with anything more than tipping money. The ad revenues war discussed in the article is not over Social Networking Search Utilisation. The war is over becoming your toolbar of choice ~ just ask any exec at Google, Microsoft or Yahoo.
Posted by i_made_this (302 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google is right to avoid it.
First of all, MySpace is built on top of some of the sloppiest, slow and broken code I've ever encountered.

Second, this social networking thing is a fad. My 2 cents anyway.
Posted by Bob_Barker (167 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google IS into social networking -- the Google way
Google is in fact highly vested in social networking, but they're going to do it right. They recently made a big push into this with their Google Co-op initiative. See my post on the subject for more: <a href="http://dave.notik.com/node/21">http://dave.notik.com/node/21</a>.
Posted by DavidNotik (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Repeat after me.
We are borg...
Posted by waynehapp (52 comments )
Link Flag
Surprised At Google
The main advantage for Google in social networking is that special interest groups who identify websites that are highly relevant add another layer of value to a Google search. Im surprised they havent pushed social networking harder and tried to integrate it into their search analysis.
Posted by rapa1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Orkut's Failure
"Orkut hasn't grown significantly in the United States compared
with the speedy trajectory of other social networks like
MySpace."

That's because for all the blah-blah egalitarianism, anything that
starts from the top in Silicon Valley is almost doomed to failure
from the start.

Jobs as it almost right - he shouts down employees he doesn't
agree with, but he knows their names. Eric, What's his name, and
the other what's his name at Google couldn't care less what the
underlings say or what their names are. This is the culture that
leads to Orkut's failure.

Protest they might, but experience is more right than all the
sling-equipped 767s in the world.
Posted by Hep Cat (440 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A classic strategy
Google has enough money to follow a classic strategy. Through
everything against the wall and see what sticks. :-)
Posted by waynehapp (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A classic strategy
Google has enough money to follow a classic strategy. Through
everything against the wall and see what sticks. :-)
Posted by waynehapp (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A month ago...
MySpace was a fading flash in the pan being dogged by a pre-election Congressional witch-hunt and the general refusal of the company to make any siginifcant improvements to its site; outside of selling more ads. Now someone wants Google to turn into MySpace.

HUH? That's the worst idea ever. Well, maybe a bit of an overstatement, considering the long history of the internet....

Social Networking sites are on par with chat rooms in the fact that they are HOT now and in ten years they will be a dusty relic taken over by something else. MySpace is selling all flash, no pan.

People will always need to search the web and will always want cheap, web-based applications to do...Whatever clever little thing that needs to be done.

Google is smart in focusing on the basics of their business. They are also smart not trying to chase MySpace up the tree of doom too.

Hey, anyone remember FRIENDSTER? Thought not.
Posted by larrymadill (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google is on it's own path
There's a reason why Google does things the way it does and so far everything they put their focus on turns to gold. If they had put more money into Blogger, it could have been the MySpace we see now...but they didn't and I'm sure it was for a good reason. It's easy to look at a multi-billion dollar company and try to nit pick what they appear to be doing wrong, but they are a multi-billion dollar company for a reason.

MySpace is much like what AOL and many of the services before the Big Pop that were so popular and made money back then. The problem with services like MySpace is they are stuck as they are. They can add flare here and there and make it "cooler", but they didn't leave themselves a lot of room to actually upgrade their services.

Google tends to choose an area to focus on that they can continue to innovate, revolutionize, and eventually reinvent. Their mission statement is about information and what they deal with the best. The means to create and display information will always be changing, but there will always need to be a place to put it, keep track of it, and give people an easy way to find it.

If you want to look at an example of a successful company looking in too many of the wrong places, look at Microsoft and think how great Windows and Office could have been with all that extra focus. Cool new things will always be popping up here and there, but "cool" is relative. I'd rather put my money in innovation.
Posted by dem0 (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The grass isn't always greener
There's a reason why Google does things the way it does and so far everything they put their focus on turns to gold. If they had put more money into Blogger, it could have been the MySpace we see now...but they didn't and I'm sure it was for a good reason. It's easy to look at a multi-billion dollar company and try to nit pick what they appear to be doing wrong, but they are a multi-billion dollar company for a reason.

MySpace is much like what AOL and many of the services before the Big Pop that were so popular and made money back then. The problem with services like MySpace is they are stuck as they are. They can add flare here and there and make it "cooler", but they didn't leave themselves a lot of room to actually upgrade their services.

Google tends to choose an area to focus on that they can continue to innovate, revolutionize, and eventually reinvent. Their mission statement is about information and what they deal with the best. The means to create and display information will always be changing, but there will always need to be a place to put it, keep track of it, and give people an easy way to find it.

If you want to look at an example of a successful company looking in too many of the wrong places, look at Microsoft and think how great Windows and Office could have been with all that extra focus. There are kids using MySpace that were in K-3 when Windows XP was released... Cool new things will always be popping up here and there, but "cool" is relative.
Posted by dem0 (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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