From what I've observed they seem to have firmly adopted a different strategy for social which involves organically growing their existing products with social features rather than trying a high profile (and high risk) product launch. To me this demonstrated some much needed corporate self-awareness (there are some things Google just isn't good at) and so I was pretty surprised to see that they would have reversed that and gone for a big splash.
I honestly think Google has all the seeds to make a competitive social offering but they need to play their cards very carefully and tie things together in the right way. If they can weave Gmail, Google Talk, YouTube and Picasa together then they basically have Facebook's feature set. All of these products are best of class and loved individually by their users. Add Android into the mix and Google even has a trump card they can play. The question is how Google can gently usher all those users / technologies into one cohesive social offering without harming the individual products, alarming people about privacy or any other negative consequences. It has to be done carefully and gradually and with sensitivity. I think this is exactly what they've been doing and is the smart strategy.
Well said. Wave was far from great — mostly because it was hyped as an email replacement, rather than real-time collaboration.
Further, UI hasn't been Google's strong suit (this is slowly changing for the better, however), and for a social network to steal people from Facebook, it needs to have a great (not just good) design. Facebook started that way (especially compared to MySpace), but has fallen a little by the wayside over the last couple of years.
Ceding all that power to one entity (a company no less), is just insanity.
I spent about ten minutes googling around for it, but apparently my google fu is weak tonight.
See http://www.google.com/s2/u/0/search/social#socialcircle and http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2319412
Even if Facebook launched the best search engine, we are used to Google and it just works, look at Bing even if the engine is somewhat more defined and powerful, we still search on Google because there's that little something we like. It's the same thing right now with Google and their (maybe unannounced) social networking plan.
Imagine a social integrated search (kinda like Greplin) where your search results maybe be influenced by who you are and what you might try to find. Where we're not posting YouTube videos across the social network but it is integrated to it in a blended experience where you can even watch videos with your friends live. Imagine Google Docs connected directly to your Facebook contacts, your calendar synchronized to your events - a unified experience.
Yes at some point it might sound silly, but think about the possibilities, the face isn't the reality, beneath it is.