This week’s announcement of Open Graph by Facebook, and the privacy concerns it raises, is too much. Even though I am making my living by making Facebook games right now, Google needs to respond to what is happening in FB land, and start your own “real” social network. It is obvious that the world needs a social network, yet there is no real alternative to Facebook. You have been farting around with social network ideas for years, with Orkut, Buzz, and Profiles, but your implementations to date have pretty much sucked. Just bite the bullet, and make a network as easy to use and obvious as Facebook. Please, no more back door attempts like Buzz or Profiles or the gawd awful sharing that is on Reader (it is getting better, but still sucks). My team uses and loves Buzz for one small use case, but it is not something I can ask my non-techie friends or family to use.
I admit, I am a huge Google fan boy, using all of your services such as GMail, Docs, Search, and, recently a Nexus One (because I am tired of Apple’s evil, but that is a different story). I love the way Google thinks big, and solves huge problems that I didn’t even know could be solved. But, if you don’t solve this social networking problem, I am afraid that Facebook is going to become the “white listed” Internet, and Google is going to become much less relevant. I want Google to remain the default benevolent dictator of the Web.
If you don’t fix the social networking hole in your product offerings, you will be moved to the sidelines. You cannot continue to cede control of hundreds of millions of people to Facebook, and not lose in the end. Most of the non technical people that I know “live” on Facebook. All of their messages, chat, photos, videos, news links, game playing, and personal communication with friends and family is taking place on Facebook. They never leave the site. There is little need for them to even search, i.e. what they want to know is delivered to their news feed.
Extending these social tentacles into the Web at large via Open Graph is going to be a huge problem for Google. In fact, I can tell you it is a huge problem for you now even without this new FB service. I recently helped my daughter with her little local catering business set up ads on both Facebook and Google. Due to the more local and social nature of Facebook and incredibly greater ease of use for FB ads, the ROI for Facebook ads were at least 10X that of the Google ad experience. Having a Facebook Page is working for her local business MUCH better than her web page. If you are not scared of Facebook OWNING local ads, you should be. And, it seems to me, that once they own the local ads, it is only a matter of time before they “own” all of the bigger ads as well.
Another place that Facebook is kicking your ass is in the platform business. Where is the Google platform? I make games for a living, and I can tell you that we have not seen such opportunity for reaching customers as the FB platform provides in my entire career, and I have been here since the start of the gaming industry. Google has nothing. As an industry, we need an alternative to the 400MM people that Facebook has under their control, or we are going to have huge problems.
So, here is my simple plan for Google. Make an obvious Social Network with real friends and the industry standard ways of following, etc. Hook it into GMail, Buzz, etc., but put the network in front of these services and tie them together with the network. Don’t do stupid stuff like you did with Buzz and expose private data. Make a platform, ala Facebook, that allows apps and games to be integrated into the network. I guarantee we will make games for it.
Or, to expedite the process, just get it over with and buy Twitter, then turn it into Buzz and add the rest of the needed social networking features. It would not matter if you had to pay $5BB, it would be worth it.
I know you have $26BB in the bank, and are still growing, so maybe you don’t see Facebook as a threat. I don’t have a phd, I’m not the smartest guy in the room, and I don’t own a million servers. I’m just a guy that makes games, but because of that I have a good idea of what people like, not from an algorithm, but from simple observation. My observation is that you guys are going to be in trouble if you don’t do something. Soon. Like yesterday.