Social Networking

Google Gets Playful With Facebook Rivalry

Google’s “Facebook killer” came a step closer to reality Wednesday, when it was revealed that the company has been talking with game makers for potential inclusion of their wares on a new social network.

Originally brought to light by a tweet last month from Digg Founder Kevin Rose, the new “Google Me” offering could include games from Playdom, Electronic Arts’ Playfish, and Zynga Game Network, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, which cited “people familiar with the matter.”

No information was available as to when Google would launch the new initiative, and Google declined TechNewsWorld’s request for comment, noting simply that the company does not comment on rumor or speculation.

‘They Need New Ad Revenue’

“This is all about ad revenues, nothing else,” Lon Safko, social media entrepreneur, consultant and coauthor of The Social Media Bible, told TechNewsWorld.

Facebook claims 500 million members, after all, and “that’s a lot of missed ad rev” for Google, Safko pointed out.

“Facebook has figured it out,” he explained. “Get the traffic, sell the ads and even-split the ad rev with its members. It’s what Google has been doing on the public side.”

Google, in fact, recently disappointed Wall Street with below-estimated profits for its last quarter, Safko added. “They need to find a large source of new ad revenue. Where better than to try to tap into the [500 million] member base at Facebook?”

‘He Doesn’t Need Google’

“If I were Google, I would try to build a strategic alliance with Zuckerberg and provide the ad engine for Facebook,” Safko suggested. “Do what each does best: Facebook, build membership; and Google, sell advertising.”

On the other hand, “I am sure that Zuckerberg already has a good handle on ad sell implementation, so he doesn’t need Google,” he added. “If all that is true, then Google has no choice but go head-to-head with Facebook and re-invent the Facebook wheel and directly compete.”

To date, however, “Google hasn’t been effective at bringing copycat products successfully to market,” Safko noted. “Unless Google can offer something astonishing that isn’t available at Facebook, then I don’t see Google’s venture succeeding.”

Going Beyond Buzz

Indeed, Google is not exactly a stranger to the world of social networking. Its Buzz product, for example, launched earlier this year, only to be deflated early on by a raft of privacy concerns.

Then, too, there’s Orkut, which has gained significant popularity in India and Brazil.

The new social-networking service would “incorporate and go beyond Buzz,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

‘Project Management Leader, Games’

A heavy emphasis on games, meanwhile, would make developers less dependent on Facebook for reaching the growing masses of interested consumers, the publication noted.

Though it hasn’t been announced officially, Google recently invested more than US$100 million in Zynga, maker of the widely popular Farmville game, TechCrunch reported earlier this month.

It also recently advertised a job opening for a “Project Management Leader, Games.”

‘Maybe Very Smart’

“The report and rumors that surfaced before the WSJ article suggest that games will be a way into a competitive social offering for Google,” Greg Sterling, founder and principal with Sterling Market Intelligence, told TechNewsWorld. “That’s very interesting and maybe very smart, depending on its execution.”

Gaming will not, however, “define the full scope of Google’s social ambitions,” Sterling opined.

‘More on the White Board’

“Google has several social initiatives living side by side, and the company, if it is to succeed, will need to figure out how to integrate or consolidate some of them and where to put emphasis,” he explained. “One of the areas of vulnerability identified for Facebook (by Google) was the inability to regulate exposure according to trust circles or groups — family vs. friends vs. co-workers.

“This ‘hierarchy of trust’ wouldn’t likely be expressed fully in a gaming environment,” Sterling pointed out, “so I suspect Google has a good deal more on the white board.”

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