Google and Social Media: An Orkut for 2018

October 9, 2018

The Google knew that it lacked person specific information at scale. Sure, the company had browser histories, ad click data, and info generated by cross correlation—but it was not specifically:

  • An individual
  • The personal details of that individual
  • The connections (friends I suppose) of an individual

Also, the individual did not have a unique identifier. Think of this as a Google issued social security number.

The fix was to acquire Orkut and solve these data problems.

Orkut found some traction. If you follow Brazilian law enforcement, Orkut became a service of interest and utility. After a long slow decline, Orkut faded in 2014.

But Google had other “social media” designs; for example, those crazy folks from New York City playing Dodgeball. Then there was Jaiku. Too bad there was not a Jaiku-er in chief like Twitter enjoys today. Next up was Wave, which I found interesting. Anyone remember Googler Alon Halevy’s Transformic ideas?  And Buzz? What about Buzz?

Now — drum roll — Google Plus or the service which killed the ability to specify AND in Boolean Google search syntax is heading down the Google sliding board.

I recall that Google Plus or Google + (isn’t that clever? using a reserved character for a name) was the future of Google. In its early days, there were 500 employees working on Google Plus, but that number grew. As I understand it, one’s compensation was linked to one’s outputs for Google Plus. Forbes calculated that in its formative stage, Google shoveled about $500 million into the service that would deliver particularized data. See “Google+ Cost $585 Million To Build (Or What Rupert Paid For MySpace).”

What’s up with Google Plus?

An alleged security lapse or gap (you decide which word fits the situation) has caused Google Plus to do a simple math process. Convert that plus to a minus. Works.

Buzzfeed News— a real news source — reported that “Google Is Shutting Down Google+ After It Discovered A Bug That Exposed Personal Information.” It seems that the security conscious company included a “breach” which shared user’s private data with apps. (More info on this at this link.)

Several observations/questions:

First, Google seems to struggle with the social media thing. It does sell online advertising, but the Facebook-type of service is a struggle. The me-too and let’s acquire approach simply has not worked. I hesitate to use the word “failure.” Maybe challenge is better?

Second, why did a security breach occur? My personal view is that people embrace projects, work on them, hunt for more interesting projects, and move on. Over time, the projects are lost in a mist of “non coolness.” Bugs are ignored; interface decisions are good enough; and interns make decisions, saying, “Wow, Google thinks I am smart. I can do this!” Right on, worker bee, right on.

Third, Google’s social media plays have been created as world services. Facebook was a dating app for a couple of Harvard whiz kids. Google’s social has been reactionary, rarely moving in a positive manner to an attainable goal. No wonder people on the team chugged along for a while and then headed off to more fun projects. Being a perpetual number two to Facebook is galling. Many Googlers just went to Google, including some high profile Googlers like its chief operating officer.

Fourth, why wasn’t security better? My view is that security has been perceived as “part of the Googleplex.” Obviously it wasn’t, and none of the Googlers realized it. Perhaps they were too busy running from meeting to meeting, looking for another assignment, starting venture capital firms, playing table tennis, or updating their Facebook page. Priorities can be a challenge.1

Net net: Google Plus may live on in a different role, sort of like Google Glass has become a super industrial and business success.

What happens if I view Google Plus through Google Glass?

I see a winner.

Stephen E Arnold, October 9, 2018

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