Google attempts to take on Facebook with new social networking service Google+
Can Google be social?
The Internet search giant whose mission is to organize the world's information will try to organize the world's people with a social networking service that is designed to rival the growing influence of Facebook.
The service called Google+ will let people share their lives and do the kinds of things they already do on Facebook such as post status updates, photos and links. Its focus is on sharing with small groups rather than your entire universe of friends. (That's probably what led Google to offer to buy Dave Morin's Path).
It's initially only open to a limited number of Google users who will eventually be able to invite others.
This is a risky gambit for Google, which has had a string of social networking flops, most recently Buzz. It's also a project that co-founder and chief executive Larry Page has personally overseen.
Page knows Google has to make the transition from a Web that connects pages and a Web that connects people. Facebook threatens Google's hegemony as the Web's most popular destination and one of its biggest moneymakers.
All that sharing taking place on Facebook is largely inaccessible to Google and other search engines. And Facebook is consuming a lot of people's time. In May, 180 million people visited Google sites, including YouTube, according to research firm ComScore. More than 157 million visited Facebook. And those Facebook users spent an average of 375 minutes on the site versus 231 minutes on Google.
Why is that important? Advertisers are watching. It's not clear that gains at Facebook are costing Google –- yet. But clearly that could happen.
Does Google have it in its DNA to become a social destination? It clearly has been adding plenty of talent that have the know how. Google+ is part of an urgent effort underway for months under the codename Emerald Sea.
But many observers say Google has moved too slowly to counter Facebook. Even Google's chairman Eric Schmidt, the company's CEO for more than a decade, recently admitted that.
Schmidt said he "screwed up" in social networking. "I clearly knew I had to do something and I failed to do it," he said.
One of the most major screw ups was a social networking service for Gmail users called Buzz which automatically included their e-mail contacts in the network, setting off a firestorm. Google changed the service and in March settled with the Federal Trade Commission and agreed to 20 years of privacy audits.
Google seems to have learned a lesson with Google+ about people's desire to control what information they share. That may get the attention of the folks at Facebook.
-- Jessica Guynn
Image: Google+ logo. Credit: Google