Google Plus and the Shadow of Orkut
April 25, 2014
Google was into social networks when Orkut Büyükkökten cooked up the site after he joined the GOOG in 2002. Not long after Orkut became available, an outfit called Affinity Engines initiated an allegation that Mr. Büyükkökten was inspired by InCircle code. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Affinity did not buy my mother’s catchphrase.
There were some alleged and interesting coincidences between the InCircle code and the Orkut code; for example, eight or nine allegedly identical bugs. Well, Google and InCircle worked out their differences, but Orkut was off to the races. From Brazil to India, Orkut became popular. Some of the uses of Orkut were surprising to me. In 2008, Orkut had become a hit in Brazil and India. In the US, not so much. Orkut has been tweaked, redesigned, and relaunched for more than a decade. Orkut added some nifty features like video chat. There were allegations that some users were engaging in anti-social behavior. Brazilian authorities showed interest in the service due to allegations regarding some Orkutians use of the service. Surprising to some is the fact that Orkut was a pioneer of sorts. I find the trajectory of Orkut to be an early example of Google’s approach to “obvious” Internet services: An inability to avoid legal hassles and generate sustainable, substantive revenue.
Cracks in the off ramp to Google from the Information Highway. Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquake_engineering
Enter Google Plus or Google+, essentially an unsearchable name for an online service. (I am intentionally skipping over Wave and other socially innovations.) In 2011, Google rolled out another social networking service. Google executives suggested that Google Plus was the “new” Google. Over the last two years, Google hooked Google Plus into other Google services. The nature of online and other types of electronic services is that monopolies are a natural phenomenon. Google Plus, then, was the glue that would help hold together disparate services in one “new” Google. Identity, advertising, and integration were the drumbeats pounded out by the GOOG’s marketing band.
Well, how is that working out for some of the Google’s best and brightest?
I read various reports about the departure of Vic Gundotra, the face of Google Plus. See, for example, “Google+ Is Walking Dead.” With dozens of enthusiastic analysts providing their views of the shuffle, there is not much left for a hopelessly confused old person in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, to add.
I did jot down three ideas about this ripple in the alleged future of Google.
First, Google is focused on keeping its revenues flowing in order to have cash to do the many different things that Google deems important. The shift to mobile is stressing the GOOG. The upheaval at Google Plus is one more signal that the clarity of mission evident in the period from 2002 to 2006 has become like Seinfeld’s puffy shirt.
Second, after decades of effort, Google is pegged to its implementation of the GoTo / Overture revenue model. Where’s the revenue come from? Search. But as mobile search puts pressure on Google’s GoTo / Overture desktop search inspiration, tensions are likely to continue to rise among the senior managers at Google. That will definitely improve the working relationships within the Google universe.
Third, Google Plus, like Orkut, demonstrates that Google can spot a good idea, emulate it, and then struggle with execution and monetization. Effort upon effort have preceded the Google Plus kerfuffle. More will follow? Will the next big thing be Loon, Glass, or yet another reworking of YouTube?
From my point of view, Google has, in the words of the Righteous Brothers’ song:
You’ve lost that loving feeling, oh that loving feeling
You’ve lost that loving feeling, now it’s gone, gone, gone
Do the founders of Google and the firm’s senior management team have this golden oldie on their Android phone? A Google search won’t answer this question. Come to think of it Google search has become so unwieldy for certain queries that I cannot find an answer. As the song lyrics remind me,
Bring back that loving feeling, now it’s gone, gone, gone
And I can’t go on, no oh oh
This sounds like a sentiment I should post on the Beyond Search Facebook page.
Stephen E Arnold, April 25, 2014