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Socially Awkward: A History of Google's Social Media Failures

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With the imminent launch of Google Me it's clear that the search giant is doubling down on its social media efforts. It began in February when Google paid $50 million to acquire the social answers site Aardvark. In the subsequent months the company has invested approximately $150 million in Zynga, and purchased social gaming companies Slide and Jambool for $182 million and $70 million respectively.

These investments make clear that gaming will be an integral part of Google's social strategy. This makes sense considering that Facebook users spend 40% of their time playing games. But what else has Google got up its sleeve? According to Google UX Researcher Paul Adams, Me will be a more accurate representation of our "real life social network."

One thing is certain, after the outright failure of Google Wave and lackluster response to Google Buzz, this is the company's last legitimate opportunity to go head to head with social networking king Facebook. For an idea of what Google may do, it's worth taking a look at what they won't. After all isn't failure the greatest teacher?

  • February, 2003 - Acquires Blogger (Pyra Labs) - By buying Pyra Labs, Google positions itself at the forefront of Weblog technology. While Pyra founder Evan Willams would go on to be CEO of Twitter, the Blogger platform languished, and was surpassed by hip upstarts WordPress, Typepad and Tumblr. These days only three of the top 100 blogs run on Blogger.
  • January, 2004 - Launches Orkut - Right around the same time a college kid named Mark was hacking together an online replica of the Harvard Facebook, Google employee Orkut Büyükkökten was using his 20% independent project time to create a social network named after himself. While the site initially caught on in the U.S., its user base grew rapidly in Brazil and India. Today these two countries represent 87% of the site's traffic, where they are rapidly losing ground to Facebook.
  • May, 2005 - Acquires Dodgeball - The granddaddy of location, Dodgeball was founded in 2000 and acquired by Google five years later. Inside Google, the service went nowhere and was eventually discontinued by Google VP Vic Gundotra (the same person TechCrunch reports to be leading Google Me). Dodgeball's founder Dennis Crowley left Google in 2007 and went on to found FourSquare, today's hottest location based social network
  • March, 2009 - Launches Google Wave - Likely the most overhyped product release of all time, Google Wave was dubbed the email killer. At the outset, people were so excited about Google Wave that beta invites were sold for 5,000 on eBay. But then people started using the product and found it overwhelming, confusing and buggy. Last week Google admitted that the wave had crashed and that they would stop development on the project.

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