Yesterday we learned that Google has purchased a social game maker, Slide. Slide makes things called SuperPoke!, SuperPoke! Pets and, my favorite, SuperPocus Academy of Magic (a virtual community for people who love all things fun and magical.)
To understand these parallel events, let’s think about Google’s trajectory into the web application sphere so far.
Things Google does well:
- Maps. Everyone knows “Google Maps is the best.” (Bonus link for Canadians who can’t see Hulu videos: Did Lazy Sunday pave the way for YouTube’s sale?)
- Reader. Bringing RSS to the rest since 2005.
- Gmail. Web-based email addresses you don’t have to be ashamed of.
- Docs (/Apps). My amateur hypothesis is that Google Docs works so well that Wave simply wasn’t necessary.
Things Google doesn’t do so well:
- Buzz. OK, Google Buzz might have some platform advantages over Twitter, but what it doesn’t have is coolness, easiness or a user base.
- Social Networking. Orkut totally rocks if you live in Brazil. If you don’t, well, you’re on Facebook.
- Profiles. Google has profiles? Yes. That is all.
- Things that aren’t utilities (except YouTube, which you can all argue is the grand exception. But remember, the YouTube offices are off-campus, likely for good reason)
The last is more general, but basically, Google hasn’t fared too well in the spaces that rely on factors other than the usefulness of a tool or programming interface. Google Maps “is the best” because not only is it easy to use, but the APIs allow manipulation and exploitation of their data for free. That is the advantage of being an advertising-driven business: driving traffic through tools, not locking content behind paywalls, is the way they make money.
But it is not, so to speak, the wave of the Internet Future. Everyone is talking about how social media is where it’s at, and will be going for a while. So Google needs a way to enter that space and make sure they don’t have a) another PR disaster that sank Buzz before it could really get going or b) an esoteric solution to a problem that no one had. OK, so Wave was trying to be “social” but it was like the difference between a cocktail party and dinner with the in-laws. Sure, you might get a job from your father-in-law if you play your cards right, but wouldn’t you rather be living it up across town with your friends?
Now we know that there is something called Google “Me” in the works that is supposed to buoy Google’s presence in social spaces. I suppose this is where the expertise and enthusiasm of the team behind SuperPoke! comes in. Like the folks at Zynga, Slide’s team is good at making cute stuff that can grab your attention and hook you in before you realize how much time you just spent clicking on sheep. (Of course, even the sheep have their critics.)
Wave is dead. Buzz is weak. Profiles are virtually unknown. But the pieces are in place. All Google needs now is a dose of aesthetics and personality before they launch another social project.