Googzilla and the Ice Cream Social

June 28, 2011

Hot summer days in Illinois spawned a weird event. Churches would organize what was called an “ice cream social.” My great grandmother called the events “ice cream parties.” The idea was to use ice cream as a reason to get together. In addition to ice cream, I recall cookies, cakes, sticky things called brownies, and other confections I never tasted. These “confections” melted as quickly as the ice cream. Kids ran around making noise. Everyone else talked and slurped ice cream. I hated the darned events. I wanted ice cream in a cup sitting alone with a book.

Here are the features of the ice cream social:

  1. Seemed like fun but it was summer and the ice cream was messy. The reality of the event was different from the old time posters with quaint lettering and the hype about the event.
  2. There were lots of things on offer. Ice cream was supposed to be the big deal but whether from fear, doubt, or the need for fat, butter, and sugar, there was a lot of Twinkie grade junk food available
  3. The talk and chatter was less meaningful than a conversation and a heck of a lot more public that a barbeque with a more select group of invitees
  4. Not much happened. I recall the build up and preparation were more important than the event itself. I slipped away quickly so maybe the social were rocking and rolling.
  5. Adults still drank beer, cursed, and went to bars, so the “social” stuff did not have traction or what today is called “stickiness”.

Why bring up a church ice cream social? I learned about Google’s 2011 social service called Google+. Now that’s a heck of a name because the + is also a Google search operator. Maybe search is really a gone goose at Google? But that’s a thought for another blog post. I found the insider story in Wired interesting. Navigate to “Inside Google+ — How the Search Giant Plans to Go Social”, and you can get a good run down of the angst and excitement of the giant effort Google+ represents. There are powerful metaphors like “bet the company” and references to “fear.” Great stuff because the founders are behind the service. There are pronouncements like search is organized around people. Okay. I buy that.

I just can’t shake the ice cream social thought. The run up seems similar to what my mother did with her “spark plug friends”; that is, planning, cooking, stirring, and phone calling to coordinate. Nevertheless, the stuff she cooked was ill suited to the hot summer day. The main feature—the ice cream—was a disappointment. Try slurping a semi soft scoop of vanilla on a 95 degree day adjacent a corn field chock full of hungry critters. The insects got more ice cream than I did and what was left melted and ran down my hands.The social part was forced. When I was older, the social action in the local college hang out was more directed than the dances with melting chocolate coconut bars. Maybe it was the booze, but the cocktail lounge “social” was the real thing, not the namby pamby gig my mother and her friends cranked out.

Will Google move from the ice cream social metaphor to the throbbing base and clink of glasses filled with booze, not Shirley Temples? My hunch is that Google will be okay with this service, but okay may not do the job on good old Facebook. Facebook has some crazy stickiness. Facebook has some crazy problems. Facebook has 20 percent of its staff with Google on its résumés. Facebook has a walled garden and a raft of advertising options. Did I mention the user base? That is important, but Google can make inroads.

My view is that Google is now focusing on social and Android. What about poor old search? Is the field open for Yandex to move into a sector while the leader is betting the company on some other services? What about the  enterprise initiative? That seems to be distant from the center of gravity at Google. What about products and services that are shut down or left dangling in the wind? Google Health, Translate APIs, poor, poor Knol—you get the idea.

Googzilla had a shot with Orkut. That was about seven years ago. The wheel is turning: Google has a portal. Google is doing me-too products. Google is betting the company. Like the ice cream socials I recall, the event is less than the build up. I hope the GOOG makes Google+ a success. Googzilla goes social. Could be a book title.

Stephen E Arnold, June 29, 2011

From the leader in next-generation analysis of search and content processing, Beyond Search.

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