Google Inc’s Social Networking Failures


Google (NASDAQ: GOOG.US) is like my trusty donkey. He carries me through my endless journeys on the internet. With Google, I have travelled the trade routes of eBay and seen the spectacles of YouTube.  He can even deliver my correspondence to people in far-off lands. If you’re reading this, you most likely travelled here on your own proverbial internet donkey.

However brilliant, my donkey Google is not without past fleas.

Launched in 2002, Google Answers was a response to the relatively successful Yahoo! Answer.  Unlike Yahoo! Answers, askers in Google’s programme had to pay anywhere between $2 and $200 for an answer. The site soon descended into nonsense questions and Chuck Norris jokes, costing around $3 a pop. It is easy to see how such a site could lose its brief novelty and Google Answers was shut down in 2006.

Google Wave surfed onto the scene in 2009, generating a lot of buzz. The idea behind the site was to combine email with social networking and content creation and collaboration. Invitations to become a beta tester of the service were widely sought after and even sold on eBay. Many people thought it was going to be a Facebook killer. It was not.  A variety of technical blunders and seemingly nonsensical features kept Google Wave at low tide. For instance, for whatever reason, early users could not send email from their Wave account.  Though they generated millions of subscribers, they ended with few active users and, in 2010, shut down the project in hopes of creating a more dedicated social network to compete with Facebook.

Founded by Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert in 2000, Dodgeball was acquired by Google in 20005. The mobile social networking site allowed users to text in their location and Dodgeball would text them back if they had a friend in the area. One of the main uses of Dodgeball at the time was passively aggressively avoiding annoying co-worker’s locations. Though a promising idea, Dodgeball was a failure. At the time, there was not enough hardware that could support Dodgeball for it to reach a critical mass of subscribers. Crowley left Google to start Foursquare, a very successful social network founded on similar principles. Dodgeball was retired in 2005 to be replaced with Google Latitude, another failure.

Started in 2006 and based in Finland, Jaiku was a microblogging platform like Twitter.  Jaiku was acquired by Google in 2007. Jaiku was stunted by poorly implemented integration with Google and there are rumours of internal conflict. Jaiku was shut down in 2012 after losing most of its subscriber base to Twitter in what is known as the ‘Great Jaiku Migration’.

Launched in 2010 in a similar manner to Google Wave, Google Buzz was in integrated platform for social networking built into users’ Google accounts. Designed to revolutionarily connect aspects of users online identity, Google Buzz was a failure. Among other things, Buzz would often publish supposedly private communications and was even used by governments like those of Iran and China to find dissidents. Google Buzz was shut down in 2011 in order to focus on Google+.

Google+, rolled out in 2011, is Google’s latest attempt to bring social networking to the Googlers of the world. Built into people’s Gmail profile, Google+ allows users to share webpages, post status updates and follow people. In a few words, Google+ is heading the same way as Google Wave. Despite mandatory registration by Gmail’s 450 million active users, Google+ only has a tenth of that, compared to Facebook’s 750 million.

As you can see, there is a theme to these failures. Google cannot seem to do social networking. I personally really don’t want to have a social networking profile built into my Google account. On Facebook, I can log in, post a funny status and log out. I am, however, always logged in to Google. My web searches are private as are my emails and navigation requests.  To me, Google is halfway between work and play. Like my donkey, it goes everywhere with me and knows my darkest secrets. It’s a good thing donkeys don’t talk because they could reveal a lot of embarrassing information.

Google does have a lot of know-how in site development, as evidenced by their numerous successes like Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube, to name a few. If they want to develop a successful social network, they should create a discrete website that is not tied to my Google profile.

What Google should do is focus on ways to enhance their core experience of searches. Perhaps they could find success by more tightly integrating their massively successful Android mobile operating system with the hardware of their phones. A Google-powered competitor to Apple’s digital assistant Siri could be very appealing indeed…

On Google's current trajectory, it seems inevitable that the company will return cash to shareholders in the longer term. If I'm wrong? Then you're stuck with a reasonably priced, excellent business that's likely to endure for years. Dividend stocks can make you rich: it's as simple as that. While they don't garner the notoriety of high-flying growth stocks, they're also less likely to crash and burn. And over the long term, the compounding effect of the quarterly payouts, as well as their growth, adds up faster than most investors imagine.

That's why our managing director put together a brand-new special free report called "How To Create Dividends For Life". The report gives you five golden rules for building your portfolio, is completely free and comes without any obligations. So don't delay -- click here to receive it now!

> The Motley Fool owns shares in Google.