By Erick Schonfeld
Google may have lost the bidding war to invest in Facebook, but it is preparing its own major assault on the social networking scene. It goes by the codename “Maka-Maka” inside the Googleplex (or, perhaps, “Makamaka”).
Maka-Maka encompasses Google’s grand plan to build a social layer across all of its applications. Some details about Maka-Maka have already leaked out, particularly how Google plans to use the feed engine that powers Google Reader (known internally as Reactor) to create “activity streams” for other applications akin to Facebook’s news and mini feeds. But Maka-Maka goes well beyond that.
Maka-Maka will be unveiled in stages. The first peek will come in early November. As we reported previously, Google is planning to “out open” Facebook with a new set of APIs that developers can use to build apps for its social network Orkut, iGoogle, and eventually other applications as well. To recap what we wrote earlier:
Google will announce a new set of APIs on November 5 that will allow developers to leverage Google’s social graph data. They’ll start with Orkut and iGoogle (Google’s personalized home page), and expand from there to include Gmail, Google Talk and other Google services over time.
On November 5 we’ll likely see third party iGoogle gadgets that leverage Orkut’s social graph information – the most basic implementation of what Google is planning. . . . Google is also considering allowing third parties to join the party at the other end of the platform – meaning other social networks (think Bebo, Friendster, Twitter, Digg and thousands of others) to give access to their user data to developers through those same APIs.
We’ve now learned that the original November 5 date Google is shooting for may be delayed. “They need more time,” says one outside developer working on the project. “It is a challenge for them,” confirms another. Still, the expectation right now is that some announcement will be made the week of November 5 (perhaps the 8th or the 9th), and will most likely be limited to Google’s existing social network, Orkut. The APIs will be announced, along with as many as 50 partners that have created applications on top of the APIs. (Most of the top app developers for Facebook will be included—think RockYou, Slide, iLike, SocialMedia, etc.—and a few new ones as well).
All eyes will be on Google, but don’t expect anything too earth-shattering straight out of the gate. Many of these apps will be copycats of what is already available on Facebook (just as the very first apps on Facebook were ported over from other parts of the Web). This first go-round, Google will just be trying to match Facebook’s ante. Remember, even on Facebook, the best apps didn’t emerge on Day One. And now Facebook has a six-month lead.
The bigger challenge for Google in the U.S. is Orkut itself. While there may be 24.6 million monthly visitors to Orkut worldwide, only 500,000 of those are here in the U.S., according to comScore. Cool social apps aren’t much good if none of your friends use them.
That’s where the bigger plan for Maka-Maka comes into play. Maka-Maka is very strategic for Google. Responsibility for it goes all the way up to Jeff Huber, the VP of engineering in charge of all of Google’s apps. Huber is on record as saying that the way Google plans to compete is by using the Web as the platform instead of trying to lock developers into Google’s own platform. One way it will do that from the start is by creating two-way APIs so that any app created for Google can be taken to other Websites. (Whether this will extend to actual user profile data within Orkut or elsewhere inside Google remains to be seen because of privacy issues, but the apps themselves will be portable). And data from other social sites will be able to be imported into Google’s social apps as well.
The bigger vision is to combine all of Google’s apps and services through Maka-Maka. Google already has so much data on you, depending on how many Google apps you already use. It just needs to bring everything together. Your contacts are in Gmail. Your feeds are in Google Reader. Your IM buddy list is in Gtalk. Your upcoming events are in Google Calendar. Your widgets are in iGoogle. And don’t forget about your search history. Overtime, Google will connect all of these together in different ways, along with data about you from other social services across the Web, and give developers access to the social layer tying all of these apps together underneath. The real killer app for Google is not to turn Orkut into a Facebook clone. It is to turn every Google app into a social application without you even noticing that you’ve joined yet another social network.