Why did Google buy social application developer Slide? A main line of speculation has been that the company wants to build a social gaming platform, and there are many reasons to assume that.
But we’re hearing that the search leader is focusing on creating general social products first, and it is still just at the start of doing that. Specifically, Slide founder Max Levchin will be personally responsible for leading the design and launch of a new social product, including some form of third-party platform around it.
Social games could become part of the plan later, and it’s easy to see why people are assuming that. They generate a substantial minority of Facebook’s site traffic and create substantial revenue in the form of virtual currency purchases. Gaming companies, other social networks, widget developers and everyone else has been trying to get in on this action already, as scarcely a day seems to pass without another self-described “social gaming platform” launching.
For its part, Google has shown many signs that it wants to get in, too. Within the last several months it has reportedly bought a stake in social gaming market leader Zynga, acquired virtual goods payments service Jambool and small widget and game developer LabPixies, and has been hiring product managers to focus explicitly on games.
The problem, as many other would-be platforms have already been discovering, is that the “social” part of social gaming has to come first. Then, games can be developed on top that use people’s social identities and the communication channels around them. Facebook has been able to create a social gaming ecosystem because it already convinced users to establish real-world identities and make online connections representing real-world relationships, all based around easy-to-use sharing features.
Google, we’re told, understands what the order of operations needs to be here. It is trying to fill the “social” product hole that it has until now either ignored or deprioritized. Somewhat-popular social network Orkut has not disrupted Facebook in most major markets, somewhat-used platform standard OpenSocial has not fully lived up to its potential, and none of Google’s social products overall have contributed significantly to Google’s revenue.
So what will this new social network thing look like? Google has not yet decided, and in fact the company has been busy sorting out the organizational structure around it. This was part of the reason that Google’s top executives decided to purchase Slide. But it was not just a talent acquisition.
Look more closely at Slide, along with the other social companies that Google has been buying, and you can see pieces of its plans coming together.