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Summary:

Google says it’s willing to accept its shortcomings on social and bring in a “Head of Social” to set the right course. The company has hired an executive recruiter to fill the position, and is currently in the process of casting its net widely.

Google says it’s willing to accept its shortcomings on the social web and bring in a “Head of Social” to set it on the right course. The company has hired an executive recruiter to fill the position, and is currently in the process of casting its net as widely as possible.

Though competition from Google sends shivers down spines in just about every sector — from news and book publishers to phone makers to venture capital — the company’s dominance has a gaping hole on the social web. Google has tried to introduce social sites, from Orkut to Buzz, but they’ve had limited appeal, hampered by a misunderstanding of user needs. In recent months Google has added a social layer onto its existing products, like search and maps. And it does have powerhouse publishing and communication properties in Blogger and Gmail on the outskirts of the social web. But there’s no formidable master plan to speak of.

Until now, however, it wasn’t clear to what extent the algorithmically driven Google understood that it had a social problem. At the Google Buzz launch, Sergey Brin lamely talked up the success of Orkut, a rare emission of marketing speak from the normally blunt Google co-founder. Brin and other Google presenters seemed to have been groomed not to mention the “F-word” — aka “Facebook,” the leading social site on the web. And we all know how well Buzz was received.

More recently, Google staffed up on advocates of open social web standards such as Joseph Smarr and Chris Messina and tried to put together industry-unified alternatives to Facebook. And in a highly unusual move, the company altered its core asset, front-page search results, with real-time updates from Twitter through a paid deal late last year.

But now Google has retained an international executive search firm to recruit a “Head of Social.” Here’s how the job is described, according to a recruiting letter we obtained:

This is a new and very strategic position, as Google knows it is late on this front and is appropriately humble about it. In Google’s view, conceptually, there are two ways to tackle social, each impacting who may be successful in this senior post: 1) building an innovative offering specifically in this area; or 2) developing the capability and integrating social into Google’s existing portfolio.

There’s also the possibility of acquiring an existing social site — which is what someone qualified for this job would likely be busy running — but that’s not overtly stated. As for internal candidates, Google’s most prominent spokespeople on social have been folks such as Smarr, engineering director David Glazer, and VP of product management for apps, Bradley Horowitz. It’s not clear if they’re being considered as well.

Is there a silver bullet for Google in social? Probably not. But if you think you could be it, the company may be looking for you.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Why Google Should Fear the Social Web

Social Advertising Models Go Back to the Future (This piece details how web monetization will change as social replaces search for an increasing number of functions.)

  1. Delinda Dyrssen Monday, May 10, 2010

    Glad to see Google is working on this. One of the areas where Microsoft has also failed. Go Google! I don’t care if you guys “take over the world” hey I personally I think the Chrome browser is the best Ive ever used.. same goes for the search engine. Yes Google has lots of shortcomings and sometimes they do stuff I don’t like. But overall.. Ill put up with the cons because they are far outweighed by the PRO’s.

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  2. hey search firm, drop me a line and i’ll tell you exactly where to look…

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  3. Facebook and Twitter sucks. No need to go after that.

    Google just needs to improve Buzz, Wave and Open Social to the point those will take over everything else.

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  4. I think Google needs to go distributed for social. They started off Google Friends Connect but never really done much there to make it a compelling product. Imagine if Friends Connect was like Adsense, allowing millions of websites to create their own social networks that matched Facebook in features but built on Google’s infrastructure. All a site owner had to do was paste in some code from Google and they had a full blown community site. All Google had to do was focus on the technology and let others build the community. In no time Google could have a social network that was much bigger that Facebook. They would also have access to all that data form all these distributed communities. I fear if Google don’t do this, Facebook will and it would be game over for Google in the social space. Communities are more naturally built around interest/content and the company that enable the easy creation of communities on blogs and small sites which are usually very narrow in focus will create a massive distributed network. Think of all the data that can be gathered on people’s actual interest. This is where Google needs to focus. They are a technology company, so build great technology so other can help them with social. They have all the parts.

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  5. [...] Google is looking to hire a “Head Of Social” according to a recruiting document acquired by GigaOm. The position will be used to launch new products and/or integrate social features into their [...]

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  6. Google and Yahoo need to partner on this. Once they’re sharing profiles using some open standards (open social?) everybody will want to get on board. For now they’re both just pushing watered down, lonely versions of Facebook.

    If the standards are too open it’ll make it easy for competition but they don’t have much to worry about until email accounts are as mobile as your cell number.

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  7. “Probably not” What kind of attitude is that?!

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  8. I’d check out this guy as a strong consideration. His ideas and insights are well ahead of the rest…

    http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/about/

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  9. How Do I Apply? I Love A Good Challenge

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  10. I think that it is going to be really hard for Google to come back on the pure social front – facebook has not left much oxygen there. My recommendation to Google would be to focus on “profiles” instead. Acquire wordpress and try to offer the best offering on the net for people to build their profile/identity, with a lot more reach ness and flexibility than facebook does. Integrate that well with search, facebook and twitter and once they have the profile foundation in place, look at creative ways for people to stay up to date with the profile of their friends – which will still be hard but may be addressable is they have the profile information.

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