Techworld

Google exec rips Facebook as social net of the past

VP Bradley Horowitz says there's an advantage to being late to the party

In an interview this week, a Google executive called rival Facebook an outdated social network that is annoying the heck out of users with its ads.

He also said there's a definite advantage to being late to the party.

Bradley Horowitz, a vice president of product for Google's social network, Google+, took to the stage at Business Insider's Ignition conference in New York on Wednesday. When the conversation turned to Facebook, Horowitz came out swinging.

"We're providing a different value proposition today," Horowitz told Business Insider. "We recognize that Google+ may not yet be the place that you go to when you want to wish your friend a happy birthday. It is not yet there... It's not attempting to chase the social networks of the past. We're plotting our own course and it's a different course."

The interviewer, Nicholas Carlson, then moved to make it clear that Horowitz was talking about Facebook when he talked about social networks of the past.

Facebook declined to comment on Horowitz's remarks.

Horowitz went on to say that Facebook is annoying users by interrupting their intimate social connections and thrusting advertising into users' streams. Google+, he noted, wants to take a different road with social networking.

"We're trying to make a product that's ergonomic for the way our attention is wired. We don't think current social products really do that," he said. "When you and I are having a conversation, the least opportune thing you can do is have some guy with a sandwich board run between us and try to sell me a sandwich. I'm trying to connect with someone and communicate in that sacred space. It doesn't matter if I like the sandwich... That is the wrong moment to dangle a sandwich in front of me."

Google, according to Horowitz, is trying to be more holistic about its ad presentation.

"The [proposition] that you're sort of jamming these ads and agendas and sponsored things into user streams is pissing off users and frustrating brands, too," he added. "That's not the way the real world works."

Google is more focused on generating revenue by taking information, such as friend recommendations, from its social network and placing that information into users' search results, Horowitz said.

The interviewer asked if the intention of Google+ is to make Google search better and more relevant.

"I think it's to make them more effective, and by effective that means more useful to users and more useful to brands," Horowitz answered.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said he's not surprised that Horowitz would take on Facebook, but he is surprised at how aggressive he was about it.

"I guess to call them the social network of the past is an exaggeration considering they still have, what is it now, 1 billion users," he said. "I think Google's just trying to legitimize itself as the better alternative to Facebook. I think Facebook has taken somewhat of a publicity hit based on the botched IPO, so kick them while they're still getting up."

Kerravala said he expects the assault to continue.

Horowitz said he couldn't release the latest user numbers for Google+ but pointed to a report released in September that said the site has 100 million active monthly users. It's a big number until it's compared with Facebook's reported 1 billion active users.

Undaunted, Horowitz said the social network is moving in the right direction and has the benefit of being late to the party and seeing what works and what doesn't.

"It's a question of time frame. In five to 10 years, absolutely we aspire to be a place where you have an uncluttered, meaningful connection...," he added. "It's never fun to be late to a market, but it does afford you an opportunity to talk to users. What needs are not being met? What do they like and not like? We believe in the online world you should be able to have a conversation with your cycling buddies that stays with your cycling buddies."

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

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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