I think one reason Google has failed to really break into this space so far has to do with both Facebook's critical mass and Google's lack of a coordinated push into the space (or maybe it was never a priority and they haven't even really tried yet :P). Facebook is a powerful social platform based on relationships, and Google is a collection of many services, some which enable collaboration, but lack a compelling personal and friendship element.
Google still has a very strong chance to turn it around and create a significant social network if it can come up with a coordinated strategy. There are still a number of users who are unwilling or unable to use Facebook, and there are a number of users who are just hanging on the edge, willing to try something else. If Google made the perfect alternative with just the right balance of social and networking features, it might turn out to surprise the naysayers.
Consider the following things Google can draw upon:
- A massive network of Android devices whose owners are constantly in touch with friends and relatives, a platform growing by 1.4million devices a week
- a huge number of Gmail users who already manage contacts, both personal and business
- a collaborative document system
- an absolutely mammoth user reach via Google search and Adsense, that happens to also give them huge profiling capabilities of a large proportion of web users.
- A news platform in Google News that is still highly sought after
- a HUGE network of publishers and sites that run Adsense and already rely on Google for traffic, every single such publisher already has a Google account.
- Arguably the defacto destination for public video content on the web.
How Google can drive adoption:
- How easily could Google convince websites to adopt their own variant of "Google Connect"? As a web publisher myself, I'd support it if it was made properly.
- How easily can Google encourage "Google Like" buttons? Depending on what they do, it can happen overnight (what if Google Like buttons influenced SERPs , for instance, even at some miniscule level balanced for gaming, who could risk not using them?)
- What would happen if the social networking capabilities that Google offers spanned across all their properties to some degree (and yet remains non-invasive)?