Google challenges Facebook with its own social network


SAN FRANCISCO — Can Google be social?

The Internet search giant whose mission is to
organize the world’s information is attempting to organize the world’s
people with a social networking service that will attempt to rival the
growing influence of Facebook.

The service, called Google , will let people share
their lives and do the kinds of things they already do on Facebook such
as post status updates, photos and links. Its focus is on sharing with
small groups rather than your entire universe of friends

It’s initially only open to a limited number of Google users who will eventually be able to invite others.

This is a risky gambit for Google, which has had a
string of social networking flops, most recently Buzz. It’s also a
project that co-founder and Chief Executive Larry Page has personally

Page knows Google has to make the transition from a
Web that connects pages and a Web that connects people. Facebook
threatens Google’s hegemony as the Web’s most popular destination and
one of its biggest moneymakers.

All that sharing taking place on Facebook is largely
inaccessible to Google and other search engines. And Facebook is
consuming a lot of people’s time. In May, 180 million people visited
Google sites, including YouTube, according to research firm ComScore.
More than 157 million visited Facebook. And those Facebook users spent
an average of 375 minutes on the site versus 231 minutes on Google.

Why is that important? Advertisers are watching. It’s
not clear that gains at Facebook are costing Google — yet. But clearly
that could happen.

Does Google have it in its DNA to become a social
destination? It clearly has been adding plenty of talent that have the
know-how. Google is part of an urgent effort underway for months under
the codename Emerald Sea.

But many observers say Google has moved too slowly to
counter Facebook. Even Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, the company’s CEO
for more than a decade, recently admitted that.

Schmidt said he “screwed up” in social networking. “I clearly knew I had to do something, and I failed to do it,” he said.

One of the most major errors was a social networking
service for Gmail users called Buzz, which automatically included their
e-mail contacts in the network, setting off a firestorm. Google changed
the service and in March settled with the Federal Trade Commission and
agreed to 20 years of privacy audits.

Google seems to have learned a lesson with Google
about people’s desire to control what information they share. That may
get the attention of the folks at Facebook.


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