It's becoming clear that Google is getting ready to launch a social networking platform to challenge Facebook. Most recently, The Wall Street Journal reported last night that the big social gaming companies that dominate Facebook are in talks with Google to launch on its platform, too.

Can Google get social? For many years the tech community has said Google just doesn't get it and doesn't stand a chance moving beyond search and into social technology. Too many failed attempts have left people feeling cynical. This latest effort might be different, though. We asked five of the smartest people we know in social technology if they thought Google could pose a viable challenge to Facebook.

It's a Stretch...

Scott Beale, founder of Laughing Squid and long-time geek gadfly

"It seems to me they are very different systems: Google open vs. Facebook closed. Or is the thought that Facebook will be eventually as open as Google? Posting photos to Facebook is like sending them down a black hole. It would take a major shift for that [Google effectively challenging Facebook] to happen. Google is a utility: email, search, video, etc."


Above: Beale and Thurston, photo from Laughing Squid

Buzz is Closer Than You Might Think

Iain Dodsworth, founder of desktop social stream reader Tweetdeck

"I think Google can and will effectively challenge Facebook. Perhaps in part around Buzz - a product which is far from on its last legs and has great potential with a few tweaks -probably around the positioning of the service rather than the functionality."

Neither Company Has the Right Culture for Social Technology

Kaliya Hamlin, co-founder, Internet Identity Workshop

"The culture of agression is pervasive in Silicon Valley, including at Google...That's not just at Facebook...It works for now, but I don't think it is a viable model for choosing how to design 'social software' in the long run."
"If Google follows the blueprint recently articulated by Paul Adams then yes, they could challenge Facebook on social. If they don't actually listen to social people....if they just to it the regular "engineering way" - then no. But look at FastCompany's recent profile of what Facebook calls its "cultural indoctrination" for incoming engineers: "We definitely fight. We expect people to be passionate, and they're going to fight to make their case,' says Facebok's Alex Bozworth. In fact, says FastCompany, "'fight,' along with 'entrepreneurial' and 'impact,' are words one hears constantly on the Facebook campus."

"A ceratin kind of social 'way' of being inside the company is informing what gets built and that healthy social systems are not driven by 'fight.' It works for now, but I don't think it is a viable model for choosing how to design 'social software' in the long run.
That's not just at Facebook, either though. The culture of agression is pervasive in Silicon Valley, including at Google."

Right: Hamlin, by Doc Searls

Gaming May Be the Wrong Approach

Ben Metcalfe, leading product design consultant and iconoclast

"Looking at how many of these [social gaming] companies make money, I also think it will be a bumpy ride for Google's 'don't be evil' mantra."
"I think Google has the collatoral to effectively challenge Facebook - the Google Profiles and Buzz are in place which were not before. ?I think that's why previous atempts (leaving Orkut aside) at anything social failed. ?But I'm not sure whether gaming is the right hook - and Google certainly needs a hook, like Facebook originally had college students. I fear that the casual/social gaming market is of interest only to a certain cross-section of the internet population, and for many who are disinterested in games this hook doesn't create much of a value proposition to use this new service.

"Looking at how many of these companies make money, I also think it will be a bumpy ride for Google's 'don't be evil' mantra. ?Google are the masters of context-advertising around text and now video, but in games there is no context - which is why there is still crappy subscription and lead-gen monetization going on by many companies in this space. I don't know whether Google has the authority in that space nor whether it is in line with Google's wider values. "

Google Won't Kill Facebook, but Something Will, Someday

Baratunde Thurston, Web Editor at The Onion and international smart guy

"I put the odds of Facebook eventually going the way of Friendster, Myspace and Pointcast Networks at 100 percent. No one stays on top forever. No one."
"History is littered with the corpses of businesses and business models that could not keep up with the times. After watching Google fail to create a hit domestically with Orkut or Google Buzz, I increasingly believe that some companies just are not MEANT to adapt and dominate everything. Facebook was born of a certain time and taps into a Zeitgeist. Despite its troubles, the company owns the social space right now. And Google, for all its talents, is simply not seen in the same way. Expecting Google to effectively challenge Facebook in the social realm is like expecting that you can change your mate. Sometimes we have to accept people and companies for what they are and what they are not.

"I put the odds of Google overtaking Facebook at 30 percent. However, I put the odds of Facebook eventually going the way of Friendster, Myspace and Pointcast Networks at 100 percent. No one stays on top forever. No one."