A minor firestorm of speculation was set off when Digg founder and CEO Kevin Rose announced on Twitter that Google was working on a project called "Google Me," meant to be a direct competitor to Facebook.
The message has since been removed by Rose, who told This Week in Tech that he was asked to do so. It's also been given some additional credibility in the form of a message from a former Facebook executive.
Here is what I’ve pieced together from some reliable sources:
- This is not a rumor. This is a real project. There are a large number of people working on it. I am completely confident about this.
- They realized that Buzz wasn’t enough and that they need to build out a full, first-class social network. They are modeling it off of Facebook.
- Unlike previous attempts (before Buzz at least), this is a high-priority project within Google.
- They had assumed that Facebook’s growth would slow as it grew, and that Facebook wouldn’t be able to have too much leverage over them, but then it just didn’t stop, and now they are really scared.
Obviously, Google has said nothing publicly to confirm or deny the rumor.
The company's social network efforts have generally sputtered, with early project Orkut losing market share to Facebook in the international markets like Brazil, where the former once had a strong foothold, and Google's Buzz hardly taking the world by storm.
One of the reasons Google justifies giving away so much for free -- from Google Maps to YouTube to email and office productivity and mobile operating systems -- is to get people visiting more and more websites where it can place click-through advertising, which accounts for more than 90 percent of its revenue.
Seeing more and more users spending more and more time on Facebook would certainly be cause for concern, then. So getting users to play Farmville and post status updates on a site where Google controls the advertising inventory would be a natural move.
Whether or not Google can build something that will convince hordes of casual Facebook users to switch is anyone's guess. At least they got one part of Facebook's tactics right -- pushing privacy-invading new features on users, as in the case of Buzz's integration of Gmail, only to face massive media backlash.
Jackson West doesn't really use Facebook, so isn't exactly dying for a competitor to switch to.