Oct 182010
 

Google has been stunningly adept at devising computer algorithms to help people search the Internet.

But when it comes to building features for social networking, the company has been much less effective.

And changing that is one of the company’s biggest business challenges these days.

Google depends on having its finger on the pulse of the entire Internet, and maintaining its status as the primary entree to the Web. But as people spend more time on closed social networks like Facebook, where much of the data they share is off limits to search engines, Google risks losing the competition for Web users’ time, details of their lives and, ultimately, advertising.

“Google’s made a lot of money helping people make decisions using search engines, but more and more people are turning to social outlets to make decisions,” said Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, a technology research and advisory firm. “And whenever people make decisions, there’s money involved.”

Google has been trying to create social components, most recently with Buzz, a service that gives Gmail users the ability to share status updates, photos and videos. But that, and earlier efforts, have not been hugely popular.

Now the company will try again, with tools to be unveiled this fall, said Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive. Although the details remain murky, Mr. Schmidt and other Google officials sketched a broad outline of their plans in recent interviews.

Some of the tools are still being developed, they said; others will add features to existing products, like search, e-mail, maps, photos, video and ads.

The company plans to “take Google’s core products and add a social component, to make the core products even better,” Mr. Schmidt said.

But some wonder whether Google understands enough about social connections to create the tools people want to use.

“Google’s culture is very much based on the power of the algorithm, and it’s very difficult to algorithm social interaction,” Ms. Li said.

For example, the introduction of Buzz in February caused a wave of criticism from privacy advocates and everyday users, because it automatically included users’ e-mail contacts in their Buzz network. Google quickly changed the service so that it suggested friends instead of automatically connecting them.

Before Buzz’s release to the public, it was tested only by Google employees.

“There is some belief at Google that their DNA is not perfectly suited to build social products, and it’s a quite controversial topic internally,” said a person who has worked on Google’s social products who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

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