Google notes social failures, and touts its social advances

Company expands Google +1 after former CEO Schmidt admits to missing the boat on social Web, Facebook threat

Just as Google releases its +1 button to the Web, many industry watchers are scratching their heads after hearing former CEO Eric Schmidt admit that he missed the boat on social networking.

Google Wednesday announced that the +1 button, which began rolling out on Google search in March, is now available throughout the Web. The Google +1 button lets people recommend content to friends while getting information on what others like.

"Sometimes you want to +1 a page while you're on it," wrote Evan Gilbert, a Google software engineer, in a blog post today. "

"After all, how do you know you want to suggest that recipe for chocolate flan if you haven't tried it out yet? Today, we're releasing +1 buttons to the whole Web. As a result, you might start seeing +1 appear on sites large and small across the Internet," Gilbert added.

Gilbert noted that Google has partnered with a few sites, including The Huffington Post, Best Buy and The Washington Post, whose users will soon see +1 buttons popping up.

"+1 is as simple on the rest of the Web as it is on Google search," said Gilbert. "With a single click, you can recommend that raincoat, news article or favorite sci-fi movie to friends, contacts and the rest of the world. The next time your connections search, they could see your +1's directly in their search results, helping them find your recommendations when they're most useful."

The +1 button was first introduced as a way for Google to make results on its own search site more social.

Getting a sturdier footing in the world of social networking is something Google has really focused on in recent months. In fact, Google co-founder Larry Page, who took over as CEO this spring, was quick to tell employees via a memo that their bonuses are now directly tied to the company's social media success.

It seems that Google is digging its way out of a social networking hole that Schmidt now admits putting the company into.

Speaking at the AllThingsD conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. yesterday, Schmidt acknowledged that he didn't recognize the power of social networking fast enough and didn't react effectively to the rise of Facebook and its popular social network.

In his opening address to the conference, Schmidt said he recognized as many as four years ago that Google had to deal with Facebook and even wrote memos to that effect. However, he admitted that's as far as he took it.

"I did nothing about the memos I wrote," said Schmidt, who now serves as Google's executive chairman. "The CEO should take responsibility. I screwed up."

He said he was busy and simply failed to take Facebook and social networking seriously.

He said it would be helpful today for Google to team up with Facebook and incorporate its social data into Google search results. The problem is that Microsoft -- Google's biggest search rival -- already uses Facebook data with its search engine, Bing.

It's no secret that there's no love lost between Facebook and Google these days. Just last month, news hit that Facebook had hired a well-known PR firm to plant anti-Google stories in the media.

"That Google missed the whole social networking phenomenon is probably one of the larger understatements we've seen so far this year," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "But you have to give it to Schmidt for stepping up to the plate and taking the blame."

Olds added that while missing the social networking boat has already cost Google in the short term, the long-term implications can be even more significant.

"Facebook and the other social networks give advertisers a very viable Google advertising alternative and also a richer set of research data," said Olds. "This isn't a good development from Google's standpoint, which is why they've been scrambling to find their own way to capture those users and their data."

So the question now is if Google will now follow up this admission of failure with more social media advancements.

For months now, the Internet has been abuzz with speculation that Google is developing its own social networking platform that may be either gaming or entertainment focused.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said Google for now is simply trying to make their products more social.

"Google will keep putting out social things, some of which will have some success, but none of which will out-FaceBook FaceBook," he said, adding he's not surprised to hear Schmidt fall on his sword about social. "The great ones lose sleep over every blown opportunity."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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