Dear Google, You Can’t Be Social In A Vacuum

With last week’s launch of Hotpot, Google now has a full suite of location-based, social recommendation tools. But will it be enough to help them catch up to Facebook’s lead in both ad impressions and page views ? Of all tech companies, you’d figure that Google would understand that just because you build it, that doesn’t mean that they’ll come.

After all, the list of Google failures is long, and includes many services that seemingly were launched just because some other company or competitor did so first. In Google’s recent arms race with Facebook, Google has been attempting to beef up its social functionality with moves recent moves like Place Search. The problem is that while Google is pushing its user base to get social with search, Facebook has an inherent lead because its users have been behaving socially from the get-go.

A Look at Hotpot

How will Hotpot impact Google’s social image? Well it’s not due to any lack of functionality that Hotpot will likely fail to give Google a boost in social traffic. As Mashable reports, Hotpot offers users an interesting layer of social data and function to conventional business listings and integrates seamlessly with pre-existing Google accounts and Android devices:

Hotpot takes all of Google Places‘ ratings and reviews features and adds a more personal touch. Currently, Place Pages mostly aggregate review data from sources such as Yelp. With Hotpot, users will be encouraged to rate and review businesses directly from their Google-linked profile. Users’ ratings and reviews are tracked with a counter at the top of each profile, and likes and dislikes are remembered and used in Google’s recommendation engine.
Google [also] uses Gmail accounts and linked Google profiles to help users find their friends. Friends’ reviews and ratings will be visible, and users will get recommendations based on what their friends like.
And it goes without saying that this location-based product from Google integrates with Android out of the box. You can rate and review places on the go with Mobile maps on Android.

So, if Google has made it so easy for users to get so much more out of business reviews, why does it seem unlikely that Hotpot will help catapult the search giant into social relevancy? Well, it has a lot to do with how Google isn’t already social entity.

All in a Social Setting

Even though Google Hotpot seems to complete Google’s suite of location-based tools, it’s plagued by the very same problem that plague Google’s other tools: Google profiles are not social profiles.

For example, when a user logs into Facebook, it’s to interact with other people. When a user logs into Google, however, they could be logging in for any number of reasons, the main one being email.

Google does not offer users an inherently social experience, so asking users to start using their Google profile socially is to ask them to learn new tricks — and that’s asking a lot. Facebook, on the other hand, is an inherently social environment, so it’s only natural to let users carry those social interactions further, such as into sharing their locations and what they think of that place.

This is similar to how Facebook Places and Facebook Deals so easily sealed the fates of Foursquare and Gowalla, respectively. Both Foursquare and Gowalla were more of individual features than stand alone social social utilities, so it was too simple a move for Facebook to assimilate them into its larger social nexus — much like it did to Twitter with status updates.

With Google, we have a comprehensive suite of location-based utilities that exist in a social vacuum. So even though these features are there (and may very well offer users considerable value), they are being offered completely out of context to the user experience.

Social Streetfight

Of course, with Facebook having surpassed Google in terms of both display ad impressions and page views in the US, the search giant has to do something to ensure that it continues to be relevant socially. Especially now that Facebook is pushing back and going after its main login stronghold, Gmail, with Facebook Messages.

Granted, Google still has a massive lead in revenues, reporting earnings of $6.77 billion in Q1 2010 alone, compared to the $1.28 Billion Facebook is projected to make all year. That might buy Google the time it needs to figure out how to bring its social tools out of the vacuum. And while Android might be the key, there’s a chance that Facebook might launch its own mobile OS, as well.

About CT Moore

A former Staff Editor here at, CT Moore is a recovering agency hack with over a decade experience leveraging search, social media, and content marketing to help brands meet their business goals online. He currently provides digital strategy consulting to start-ups, SMBs, enterprise level companies through his consultancy Socialed Inc.. CT is also an accomplished blogger and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can better leverage different online channels.

5 Responses to Dear Google, You Can’t Be Social In A Vacuum

  1. Bob says:

    google makes 30 billion dollars per year and facebook makes less than 2 billion dollars per year. Yahoo with less pageviews than facebook makes 6 billion dollars per year. Facebook's rival is yahoo not google, so stop BShitting. Facebook launching mobile OS, in your dreams.

  2. Bob says:

    and stop this nonsense about facebook having beaten foursquare, gowalla, twitter etc. They have not been beaten sorry. Just because facebook builds it, means people will not start using it. That is arrogance of the highest order. And by the way facebook is not a social networking platform, it is more of a communication platform cum digital mall rolled into one. And people will move to the next shiny new digital mall. Instagram already has 1 million members in just a few weeks.

    • CT Moore says:

      I never said that FB have defeated Foursquare, Gowalla, or Twitter. If you clicked the link, you'll see that I was implying they've really limited the growth of each (hence "sealing their fate") and they've done that by taking a niche (i.e. uber-geek) functionality, and took it mainstream. They were able to do that, moreover, because they already had mainstream appeal, something that all of Foursquare, Gowalla, and Twitter would've have struggled to maintain.

      And what I mean by that is that there is probably a higher proportion Foursquare, Gowalla, and Twitter who use Facebook, too, than vice versa. FB was simply able to take a niche service and bundle it into a mainstream package. This means a lot of users will be that much less likely to even bother with setting up a separate Foursquare or Gowalla account if they haven't already done so, because those service can no longer deliver on a unique value proposition. That's all I meant by it.

  3. CT Moore says:

    Regardless of the OS, I think a lot of users will have a FB app on their phone. So I think FB captures mobile users either way. With Google, however, mobile user sessions are probably fleeting at best.

    Besides, I linked to something that said FB "might launch its own mobile OS." I never said it was a fait accompli and even if it never launches, I'm sure they''re looking into it.

    Finally, I think it's flawed to identify a rival based on the closeness of their respective revenues. FB and Google are competitors because they are trying to (1) close/personalize the web by (2) keeping users logged in. Yahoo has no strategy or product with a login model/incentive that compares to either Gmail or FB.

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