Many people wonder why Google didn’t manage to build successful social services. Orkut’s success is limited to Brazil and India, iGoogle’s social gadgets aren’t popular, Friend Connect isn’t widely used, Google Buzz has a lot of potential, but not much success.
I worked at Google in 2005 and briefly on the Orkut team. I encountered an environment that viewed social networking as a frivolous form of entertainment rather than a real utility, and I’m pretty sure this viewpoint was shared all the way up the chain of command to the founders.
At that time, hardly anyone at Google actually used Facebook, so they just didn’t understand what people were getting out of social networking products. Incredibly, many people on the Orkut team did not use their own product (let alone Facebook) outside of work. By contrast, everyone I know who worked at Facebook was a passionate user of that product.
Ultimately, I believe Google didn’t succeed at social networking because of this widespread misunderstanding of the value in social networking products.
Google’s attempts to build social services were unsuccessful because they didn’t add a lot of value. Paul Adams, user experience researcher at Google, thinks that “the social web is not a fad, and it’s not going away. It’s not an add-on to the web as we know it today. It’s a fundamental change, a re-architecture, and in hindsight its evolution is obvious. The emergence of the social web is simply our online world catching up with our offline world.”