Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Google doesn't need to hire a Head of Social, it needs to *be* social.

I was recently alerted by Chris Parandian at Amplify via GigaOM that "Google says it’s willing to accept its shortcomings on the social web and bring in a “Head of Social” to set it on the right course."

Umm... What Google needs to realize is that having a director-level position to provide leadership and focus for a marketing strategy isn't their problem. Their problem is that they're a bunch of geeks who couldn't cocktail party their way out of a recyclable plastic bag.

Harsh? Yes. But since they're anti-social Vulcan geeks, they don't have any feelings to hurt, right?

And that's the problem.

Now let's talk about it in non-invective terms (despite the fact that it's so much fun).

In Jungian terms, Google is a highly self-selected Paradise of iNtuitive Thinkers (xNTx in MBTI code). Admittedly structured more like a engineering graduate student research program than a real company, everything iNtuitive and Thinking is rewarded, and seemingly anything Sensing or Feeling is either "taken care of" for the staff, or just neglected. Their bodily needs are taken care of (food, fitness and relaxation) and everything Feeling oriented (Orkut, FriendConnect, iGoogle, Buzz and Wave - i.e., their social brands) has been an abject failure.

It's typical for a company to not realize their neglect of the Feeling function - the business world to date doesn't reward the Feeling side of their employees- except when they finally get around to using it amateurishly at attempts at creating "corporate culture" which usually amounts to overt and exaggerated uses of Extraverted Feeling (lots of "shoulds" and neo-pollitically correct terminologies and "team building").

Group-think is another common plague of companies, especially companies with strong competencies in a particular field, or a field that naturally attracts certain Typological structures (accounting firms attract and are dominated by STJs for example). What happens Typologically with group-think is that the predominate Type gets continuously reinforced, like a perpetual motion feedback loop, to the point of exaggeration and caricature, and attempts at anything outside of that Type is amateurish and even sometimes petulant (especially when someone points out how poorly they're doing it). People who don't prefer those functions are either forced out for not lock-stepping it with the rest of them, or leave on their own accord because it's such an unrewarding atmosphere.

I've frequently described geek culture and especially Google as a group of self-reinforcing NTs that result in a sort of collective Asperger's Syndrome - all Thinking and a complete lack (to the point of outright denial) of Feeling.

Google doesn't need a Director of Social - it needs therapy. It needs to collectively get in touch with their Feeling side across the whole company. Despite the fact that the strength of Google is their deep NT research model and highly scientific algorithms, everything they do touches People, especially Search. Right now they have the power to turn on a dime and basically control the World, and that's a very high moral perch to be on - and morality falls into the realm of Feeling, not Thinking.

Google has an office here in Pittsburgh (because of Pitt and CMU), and it's expanding to over 150 employees right now. So there's been a lot of job posting by Google lately. Lots of my friends and family have been encouraging me to apply there, and for a while I was considering it. Then I looked at their job postings. Every single one of them fell into two categories 1) geeky research or programming and 2) project management - not a single one of them had anything that would attract someone who prefers Feeling. Now they may have posted a few lately that I haven't seen, but I gave up looking a while ago. If the company is *that* dominated by NT types, I doubt it has the atmosphere that I'd find attractive in the first place, let alone a specific job.

From unannounced iGoogle format changes on a select few Beta testers by force (I'm one of them and haven't used it since), to a gotcha! inclusion of Buzz in their Gmail interface (with Facebook-like public-by-default settings), it's obvious that Googlers just don't have a clue how to respect the needs and space and values of their users. That isn't a "Social Web 2.0" strategy problem. It's a corporate culture problem. And corporate culture comes from the collective Typology of its members. Hiring (and creating a department of ) Persons Who Prefer Feeling is just going to create a situation where "if you want to do Feeling stuff, you need to go work in that department - we don't do that in this wing of the office" attitude.

Now it's difficult to attack a collective problem by applying therapeutic techniques to the individual members. After all, it goes against the grain of Typology to try to force someone to be a Type that they aren't, and it's very difficult to effectively work on every staff member's individual development to strengthen their non-preferred functions (nor is it really the place of a company to do so). The role of the company infrastructure is to 1) make aware to its members of their individual strengths and therefore, weaknesses and 2) provide an infrastructure for them to do it on their own.

One strategy that they can implement, however, is active recruitment of more Feeling Types in every department (but NOT through psychometric testing of interviewees - that's an unethical application of the MBTI). Another is to make sure they look at all of their products through the lens of Feeling. Will implementing this new feature violate our users sense of self, of identity, of morals, of privacy? Does it add true social value, and does Feature A *need* social value in the first place, or will it just get in the way? Does it let the person opt-in and exercize a modicum of free will? Do we have the staff (in touch with their feeling side) to support (with feeling) the new users we hope to attract? Is this "social" feature actually how people in the real world with social skills actually interact? Does it enhance those skills if it doesn't do it itself?

It seems that Google has never used this strategy to date - Orkut failed once they bought it. iGoogle actually pissed people off (as well as Buzz). Wave is an excellent idea, but they forgot to integrate it with Buzz, and the interface sucks. Google Friend Connect is stupid, Blogger support sucks (and lags waaaaay behind WordPress and LiveJournal), Delicious stomps Google Notebook's ass, Reader is unuseable, and Google's version of customer service is to provide a Usenet knock-off discussion group to let the users stumble around in the dark together playing Marco Polo. Their only social success so far has been YouTube, and they didn't even invent it - they BOUGHT it, and the success of YouTube has NOT been through any social networking features of the site - it's been through links in emails, IMs and Facebook to your friends and family members and crowding around your co-workers grey cubicle at work while the boss is at lunch.

Basically anything that requires empathy, sympathy, morality, individuality, aesthetics or community, i.e. Introverted or Extraverted Feeling, Google has failed miserably at (with one glaring exception - the variant Google logos - which seems to be evidence of that "go to this department if you want to do Feeling stuff" syndrome - and it used to be all done by ONE guy!). By attempting to solve the problem by hiring a "Head of Social" they're doing the equivalent of finding a mail-order trophy bride to their cooking and cleaning, clothes shopping and party hosting, instead of taking a shower, buying a new wardrobe that fits (and wearing it!) and learning some social niceties that everybody else doesn't have a problem doing on their own naturally.

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