EXPOSED: The Philosophy Behind Google's "Facebook Killer"

Yesterday a presentation from the research lead for Google’s social team, Paul Adams, began spreading around the web. The presentation provides deeper insight into Google’s existing concept of “social” and could help us further understand what the company believes is weaknesses in Facebook’s armor as they prepared to launch a “Facebook killer“. There were a number of themes that were consistent throughout the presentation, all of which we’ve included below.

Strong Vs Weak Ties Within Multiple Groups

The overall theme of the presentation was consistent: we have multiple groups and within those groups there are individuals who we have strong ties with and many more who we have weak ties with. There are also even temporary ties, like the person at the restaurant who served you food last night. While getting the system right on this is extremely difficult, the strong vs. weak ties is something that Facebook has yet to enable users to control.
Instead, the strength of relationships on Facebook is determined algorithmically: the more we interact (and/or view) a person on the site, the more likely they’ll show up in our news feed. So far the only way Facebook has been able to empower users to control access to information is through friends lists, a feature that even Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged is for “advanced” users of the site.
If Paul Adams’ presentation is accepted as one of the primary perspectives of Google on social, perhaps the argument for Google’s new “Facebook killer” would be that there needs to be a more effective user-interface (UI) which helps users to control these various groups. Rather than dismissing it as a service for “advanced” users, perhaps the interface has simply not evolved far enough to give users the actual control that they want.

Stab At Facebook’s Transparency

Facebook’s biggest threat is their own lack of transparency. While the company has called the “Instant Personalization” program a “test”, the company hasn’t made changes to it and is now the subject of multiple class actions as well as increasing criticism from privacy advocates. While Mark Zuckerberg has been somewhat clear about the company’s intentions, to describe the actions as “transparent” would be giving the company too much credit.
The reality is that while Facebook may see increasing engagement on the site, people are mad. I regularly talk with people who feel as though Facebook has taken advantage of them and haven’t been transparent, randomly switching up their privacy agreement with users and it may actually have driven some users away.
That would support the argument presented by Paul Adams in the slide below which states “If your privacy practices aren’t transparent, then you introduce doubt. Doubt leads to lower usage.” Only Facebook knows how great of an impact the latest privacy fiasco had on the company but it’s clear that Google sees this as a weakness.

Privacy Is Still Too Complicated

While it’s easy to suggest that the UI behind Facebook’s existing privacy settings are still too complex (as we already suggested), there’s still a single overarching theme: managing privacy is still too complicated. The greater question at hand is whether or not Google can come up with a more efficient system for managing privacy. It’s clear that privacy is the kink in Facebook’s armor as the company has made a number of stumbles in the past couple years surrounding privacy.
Even Facebook has acknowledged that privacy is too complicated, but they also suggested that the latest privacy settings would be the most permanent of all the privacy settings so far. Google has an organization filled with some of the smartest minds in the world and if the “Facebook killer” rumors are true, they believe that there’s enough weaknesses in Facebook to create a legitimate competitor.

The presentation below that has been circulating around over the past couple days would suggest that the company definitely believes Facebook to have inherit problems. It also seems to set up a context for understanding the new product that Google plans to roll out to take on the social networking giant. Do you think Facebook should be concerned about Google taking them on?