Telirati Analysis #14 Google's Social Menagerie and its Android and Web Habitats

N.b.: The tables in this article are available as a single table here

Welcome to the menagerie

Who knew how social Google really is? Google has at least nine properties that can be considered "social." Back in our analysis #11 we took a quick inventory and found that social characteristics permeate Google's collection of tools and applications, and that Google+ missed some key opportunities in high-value areas.

Here we expand our collection of specimens and apply taxonomy to Google's ecology of things with social characteristics and how well adapted they are to Web and Android habitats. We divide the analysis into two parts: content characteristics and social features.

Content characteristics

In addition to search, email, and office productivity, Google runs at least nine "applications" that deal in user-provided content. We can't call them "Web sites" since most of them are presented through both Android applications and a Web user interface. But the extent and quality of this presentation is unequal and uneven. The content varies by media type and long form/short form characteristics. The intended persistence of the content also varies, though persistence often really means "ease of discovery" which can diminish quickly if a chronological update stream is the principal means of discovery.

Content Characteristics
Google+Web-first, Android app has a subset of functionalityShort-ish form, longer than twitter, shorter than a blog postShort persistence - blink and it's gone
OrkutWeb-first, has a really bad Android appShort to medium formShort persistence - blink and it's gone
YouTubeWeb-first, Android app has a subset of functionalityVideoMedium to long
PhotosNear-parity between Web and AndroidImages, storiesLong
DriveWeb-first but Android at near-parityLong formLong
BloggerWeb-first, Android app has a poor subset of functionalityMedium to long-form, essay-like articlesLong
SitesWeb-only (duh!)Multi-page, long persistenceLong
GroupsWeb-onlyShort to medium formMedium to long (pinned)

Social Features

You can think about managing social applications as an exercise in applying common tools along common axes of characteristics and functionality. Does an application lack something basic like an update stream? Even code-oriented applications like JIRA and Github have update streams. If Google Code deserves to survive, it will have to catch up to competitors by implementing those social features.

Across all properties with user generated content and social characteristics, Google can gain an advantage over competitors by applying common social tools, such as an update stream, threaded comments, and user management features with a more-uniform level of sophistication. This means breaking up monolithic implementations and applying the modules to applications. An obvious example would be to make Blogger the long-form presentation variant for content that's too long and too persistent for Google+. But this principle can be applied to applications as varied as "social coding" and Web site hosting.

Social Features
Update streamDiscussion and commentsUser and group management
Google+Big, fast update stream, manageable with circlesReplies, but not branching threadsFlexible circle management integrated with Google address book
OrkutFast update streamLinear comments Friend list
YouTubeWeak Linear comments, now integrated with Google+ commentingCan follow users/channels; Users frquently maintained separate identities for YouTube
PhotosFull (too-tight) integration with PlusPlus commentsPlus circles
DriveNoneCollaborative editing, comments embedded in documents, document sharing in hangoutsDocument sharing
BloggerWeak. Can "follow" blogs, but it's a different "follow" than in Google+Weak, but optionally integrated with Google+None
CodeNoneIssue tracking and discussionEverything public
SitesNoneWiki-like comments and attachments are optionalSites can be private to a group
GroupsChronological view of posts, post-by-emailRich threaded branching discussionsGroup management not integrated with other Google properties


Each of Google's properties needs to be adjusted in different ways to fit into a grid of social characteristics and tools that extract maximum utility for those characteristics. Google is well-placed to do this, and a rational, consistent approach is what Google often, but not always, converges on in the end.

Google+Disaggregation into separate photo and social update apps
OrkutWill be EOL'ed in September
YouTubeAutomatic integration of videos into the Plus update stream, consolidation of follower features with Plus
PhotosNeeds a little more separation from Plus, a separate update stream of shared images
DriveDocument updates should be posted to an update stream visible to
BloggerIntegration of long form content discovery with Plus, perhaps in the form of a seprate content stream
CodeNeeds to be EOLed but for the huge potential to show what "social coding" could be like in the googleverse.
SitesNeeds a feature upgrade to make it competitive with first-tier Web site building tools like Squarespace
GroupsAdding "pinning" to Plus could integrate all of Groups functionality into Plus


Google needs to apply disaggregation, combination, and cross-domain implementation of a common set of social functions. Photos and YouTube are media-specific views into a common social update stream, but with variants in presentation that account for discover-ability requirements. There are also opportunities to combine the way some data is stored. Groups, for example, may boil down to a variation of how Google+ content is acquired and presented.

It wouldn't be worth doing without an  upside. The measure of the upside is to be found in the fact that many domains that seem unrelated can all be enhanced using social media tools. A deeper analysis of this form should be able to tell Google's product managers what to keep and what's in a hopeless competitive situation, and, if something is worth keeping, what are the resource requirements to make it first-rate.


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