by C.G. Lynch

Real-Time Search Riddle: Should Google Buy Twitter?

Aug 12, 2009 3 mins
Enterprise Applications

Buying Twitter makes good business sense for Google.

Now that Facebook acquired FriendFeed, a social networking service beloved by social media insiders but unheard of by most of the general populace, should Google consider buying Twitter?

Yes, Google should, for a price tag of $1 billion, Henry Blodget contends in a post yesterday on Business Insider. Blodget makes some compelling points, noting that Google “has been trying for years to matter in social networking.” By acquiring Twitter, Blodget argues, Google could integrate the popular social network with other core products like Gmail, Google Voice, and its upcoming Wave messaging system. In addition, since Twitter consistently has problems with scale and uptime, utilizing Google’s massive infrastructure could improve its reliability.

This all sounds great in theory, but I have trouble imagining what such an integrated product would look like for users, many of whom would balk at changing Twitter’s look and feel at all.

Already, Google will have its hands full teaching people what Wave can do and how it will work with the company’s existing products. As Anil Dash of Six Apart has pointed out this week, Wave seems to have so many moving parts that developers might struggle to build on top of it. As such, it’s hard to imagine what the initial reactions of users will be. 

Despite the challenges, Google must try for Twitter. To date, Google’s social networking strategy has been to pit the Web against Facebook, and it hasn’t worked so well.

In fact, Facebook’s Microsoft-ian, go-it-alone approach has been winning. Google Friend Connect, a single-sign on technology that allows users to manage their identity using their log-ins and passwords from their e-mail or Twitter accounts, has captured the attention of small sites and blogs, but is a far cry from the Washington Posts, diggs and CitySearches of the world that have embraced Facebook Connect.

OpenSocial, a set of common APIs that let developers build social networking applications for a variety of sites (including Orkut, MySpace and Hi5), hasn’t caught the same attention, in development or funding, as the popular (and proprietary) Facebook Platform and surrounding ecosystem.

The recent Google profiles product does little to connect users with their friends. Google Apps, which does a nice job of bringing old technologies (e-mail, docs and spreadsheets) and making them easier to use on the Web, needs more social elements. Apps does contain a wiki (Google Sites), and it puts people’s pictures over their chat (IM) icon, but it lacks the social functionality that many Web 2.0 vendors bring to the table.

Aside from scaling Twitter and bringing it more traffic, Google could monetize Twitter in a hurry. Twitter has made real-time search front-and-center in its product, knowing that the ability for people to query the service to see what people are saying about products could be a marketer’s dream (which will materialize with ad dollars). 

Google knows a thing or two about that business.