Much of the skepticism is a result of a reasonable expectation that Google is building a destination site, one that could house games and messaging, formatted the way current counterparts are. But what if that's not the plan? What if Eric Schmidt's now infamous quote about not needing another Facebook meant that there is no destination site in the works? What would that even look like?
My guess is that there will be no big announcement, no shiny new product, and no sleek mobile app. I'd venture to say Google is about 20 steps ahead of us, putting the pieces for their platform in place, one product at a time.
Facebook's defining quality, embodied by the ubiquitous "like" button, is to forge connections between people, content and, ultimately, Facebook.com. Google has instead focused on mastering the art of singular products, some of which are organically social and some of which are not. From Maps and Places to YouTube and Gmail, the services are all-encompassing but not contained in a one-size-fits-all destination site. While Facebook operates on a platform-first model, forced to fit new features within an existing framework, Google is essentially a suite of pure features; what's missing is the glue that holds them all together -- integration and a fluid user interface.
Moreover, Google already owns the portals through which we access the web and its content, in Chrome and Android (and the coming ChromeOS). Arguably, these entry points are Google's biggest asset to leverage and as shown by the announcement of the Chrome-to-Phone extension, the amalgamation of portals and products is already under way.
Look at how this integration plays out -- linking the utility of "Maps" with the ability for users to "Buzz" about "Places" and then allowing brands to respond. Consumers can fluidly search for a venue, call or e-mail them, map it out, instantly access the street view, read and add reviews, buzz about it, check-in, and disseminate it to social networks. Couple this type of activity with the Android-Chrome integration and a picture starts to form. This could easily be considered a microcosmic example of what's to come.
Bottom line: Google's failed social efforts are infamous, so doubt is warranted. There is also the possibility that they have other plans for a superimposed architecture and Google Me is something else entirely. But in my mind, the chess pieces in this messy puzzle are gradually being put in place. All that's left is for Google to create the invisible netting between their disparate entities with a fluid, social, user interface.
Also, we have been so caught up in the "brewing war with Facebook" that most of us didn't devote much thought to name Google Me, "me" being a word that is definitively personal and not communal. As such, their opportunity to tackle "social" lies, not in a Facebook-like destination site, but in perfecting the individual devices and only then, facilitating that experiential exchange from user to user.
We've been waiting for some big announcement about Google Me launch, but maybe we've been using it all along.
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