Did Google inspire Facebook Groups?

October 7, 2010

ZuckGroupsIt’s no secret that Google has struggled to make its mark in the fast-growing social networking market. (Witness Google’s string of stumbles, including Buzz, Orkut and the recently-euthanized Wave).

So you wouldn’t expect Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla of social networking, to take any cues from Google when it comes to product development.

But in the wake of Facebook’s newly-unveiled Groups feature, some are pointing to an interesting presentation this summer by Google’s Paul Adams, who focuses on user experience research and social networking.

In a presentation published by various media online, Adams explains the problem of social networking sites like Facebook, in which a person’s various real-life cliques and social circles (college buddies, co-workers, family members) are inelegantly lumped into one homogeneous group of “friends.”

He uses the example of Debbie, a swim instructor in San Diego whose ten-year-old swim students “friend” her on Facebook, and are thus able to view the photos that her friends in LA, who work in a gay bar, have posted of some of their wild nights.

Everyone is being shoved into this big bucket, Adams wrote. “People don’t have one group of friends.”

Of course, this issue has been a longstanding complaint among many Facebook users, so it wouldn’t be surprising if  Facebook had been trying to solve this problem long before the Googler’s presentation.

But there’s nothing like a deep-pocketed rival pointing out a weakness to get the mind focused and kick a project onto the fast-track.

We’ve asked Facebook what role the Google presentation played in the development of Groups, but have yet to hear back.

A Google spokeswoman sent the following statement about the presentation: “At Google, we have a large team of researchers who meet regularly with others in the research community to discuss industry trends and observations. Sharing and discussion is common among researchers, and a routine part of the Internet community.”

Here’s the full presentation for your reading pleasure:

View more documents from Paul Adams.
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