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Social integration: Google’s challenge for 2014


Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt admits the need for better efforts in social networking, and says Google will not make the mistake of missing out again. Will we see better Google+ integration in Google products this year?

Human beings are such social animals. Case in point: social networks are counted as among today’s most popular online destinations, both on desktop and mobile platforms. Take for instance the rise of Facebook not only as a social networking website, but also a platform for sharing content, as well as instant messaging.

Research by PEW Internet has determined that 73 percent of online adults in the US access social networking services on both desktop and mobile devices. Facebook dominates this set, with about 71 percent usage. In terms of numbers, Facebook has at least 1 billion active users. Google+ has about 300 million, while Twitter has at least 200 million.

In a recent year-end statement, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt says mobile is a clear winner for 2014, but he admits Google still has a long way to go in the social networking realm. “The biggest mistake that I made was not anticipating the rise of the social networking phenomenon,” he said, adding that it was not a mistake Google was going to commit again.

Mobile and social: a good mix

Schmidt’s opinion on social media does make sense. Google+ is not exactly a popular social network among the masses. Its usage figure is perhaps propped up by the fact that signing up for Google services would also activate Google+. In fact, YouTube users are required to sign in to Google+ in order to participate in the comment threads (something met with criticism, especially for users who want to remain anonymous).

However, Google+ is lauded for the quality of its content and participants. A study this December determined that IT managers and decision makers are most active on Google+. Additionally, Google+ has been lauded for its rich capabilities, not only as a social network, but as a platform for communications and sharing that enjoys deep integration into the various Google services.

Facebook has actually attempted to improve its capabilities as an integrated part of the mobile experience. In early 2013, it launched Facebook Home, a replacement for the Android Home Screen. While the effort was welcomed with optimism, it did not take on as well as expected. Facebook was able to redeem itself, however, when it refined its standalone Messenger application with a better interface and easier contact discovery through the phone book.

Google does have better potential in reaching a bigger mobile audience, especially with the prevalence of Android as a mobile platform. What’s left for Google to do is improve on integrating the social experience with more aspects of Android, and this goes beyond smartphones and tablets. How about wearable devices, like smart watches and connected glasses? Social networking on desktop computers can only go so far. But if a person can interface augmented reality glasses (like Google Glass) or connected smart watches (like Samsung Galaxy Gear) with one’s social network, then it could make social networking all the more seamless. The Galaxy Gear already integrates Twitter, Facebook and Gmail, for example.

It does not necessarily have to be social networking in the sense that users need to share photos, links and updates. Google already runs Google+ as an integrated part of its services (like app recommendations and authorship on Google Search), and the social network can exist on a different level. Google+ can be a service that a user won’t have to interact with actively in order to work. It can be a social network that you wear on your watch or that can feed you information in augmented reality through glasses. We can become better connected without necessarily having to spend half our day watching our Facebook News Feeds.

So if social networking is one of Google’s challenges for 2014, then it may already have won half the battle, by owning the platform that runs 80 percent of the smartphones out there and potentially a big chunk of wearable tech and household tech, too. Personally, I’m still an avid fan of Facebook, but I believe Google can pull off a social networking coup with Google+ yet.

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