Those of you who have been eagerly awaiting Google's third foray into social media (let's not forget Orkut, and the half-arsed Google Buzz, shall we?) may have to put away your sparklers and unstring your piñatas. The firm's head of mobile product development, Hugo Barra, responded to a questioner at the Monaco Media Forum thus:
We're not working on a social network platform that's just going to be another social network platform.
That's right. We're not working on a social network platform that's just going to be another social network platform. Without a doubt, this is the winner of the 2010 Donald Rumsfeld Award for non-statements. (There are things we know we know. There are things we know we don't know. What goes on in the minds of senior Google executives is one of the latter.)
Ever since Digg bloke Kevin Rose tweeted the advent of Google Me almost six months ago, the tech world has waited agog (agoog?) to see what Google was going to throw up in Facebook's face. After all, Google = huge reach across the Webternet, it was once the future, etc., etc.; while Facebook = the platform of choice for rising numbers under 40s, rapidly encroaching on Google's territory with features such as Search and Places.
So, is this statement another example of Google, the guy in the nice corner of the Nerd War boxing ring, backing down from a full-on greasy wrestle with Facebook, in the nasty corner? It's hard to say, as Barra's next sentence almost canceled out his first one.
"We do think that social is an ingredient for success for any app going forward, search and advertising being probably the best two examples that I would mention. So that's how we're thinking about the problem."
Ah! So, even though he's stating that there is no social network platform on Google's to-do list*, the firm is still contemplating how in the name of everything that is algorithmic they create a great idea that will put the brakes on what everyone thinks is an inevitable migration from Google to Facebook.
The inscrutability of Google means that, most of the time, the media and commentating classes, are scrabbling to work out just how to interpret the firm's statements. On this occasion, it would be safe to say this: Google's social media platform doesn't cut the mustard in its current iteration. However, we are looking at ways in which to incorporate the concept within the two mainstays of our business—advertising, and search—and generate more money from it.
*I like to think of it as a metaphorical Post-it stuck on a fridge in one of the Google kitchens, that reminds it of what there is still to do. "Take out trash, replace flowers in massage room 213, pwn the Internet."