There are widespread reports of a fundamental reorganisation at the top of Google, following the handing over of the CEO baton from Eric Schmidt to co-founder Larry Page.
Page, it seems, has decided the single biggest threat facing Google is its relative exclusion from social networking. The giant in this area is, of course, Facebook, and it's increasingly becoming the place people go to to find stuff on the web, rather than Google. This is resulting in advertising money shifting from Google to Facebook and that's where the threat lies.
The reported changes take two main forms. Firstly, as reported by Business Insider, Google has made all employee bonuses this year dependent, to some extent on Google's success in social.
Business Insider also got a screenshot of the operative part of Page's internal memo announcing the change, detailing how bonuses will vary "...depending on how well we perform against our strategy to integrate relationships, sharing and identity [i.e. social] across our products."
The other big move designed to solve the social problem for Google is the apparent formal appointment of Vic Gundotra to SVP of social, as reported by the LA Times. This is part of a general reorganisation in which Page has reportedly created some semi-autonomous product teams, although Google's corporate page has yet to reflect it.
Gundotra was GM of ‘platform evangelism', would you believe, at Microsoft before joining Google in 2007. It's thought that his evangelical skills will be most effectively put to use in the social field, where there is the least faith that Google is the Messiah. This move has been on the cards for some time.
So the pressure is on Gundotra and the whole of Google to make the company a player in the social space. And it's not like Google hasn't been aware of this threat for some time. Business Insider once more delivers with a slide show of Google's failures in social, but its latest - +1 - does seem to at least exploit Google's home turf of search.
That would seem to be the way forward. Given Facebook's ubiquity and momentum it's just not realistic right now to try to make a competing social network, just as MySpace, Bebo, etc. But the rise of social is inevitable - people are more likely to turn to a friend for a link than a search engine if it's just as easy. On top of that Facebook, and to a lesser extent Twitter, are the destinations of choice for photo sharing.
There have been many pieces written recently on how large companies fell into decline by becoming complacent and bureaucratic. Blockbuster was recently bought out of bankruptcy, while HTC overtaking Nokia by market cap has led to another wave of premature obituaries focusing on Nokia's failure to see the writing on the wall. Google will be acutely aware of how easy it is to go from top-dog to corporate dinosaur.
One social network Google should get more credit for when people talk about its social failure is YouTube, but the real danger is that Google's core business - search - becomes marginalised by competing social networks. That's why we think +1 is an indication of the direction Google is headed in. Whether it's got it right this time is another matter.