Google's Horowitz: Facebook is social network of the past

Google+ chief Bradley Horowitz says ads in the Facebook social feed are like sandwich boards -- there's no context. But when you're searching on Google and a friend recommends something, that matters more.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
3 min read
Google+'s Bradley Horowitz speaks during a Business Insider conference. Dan Farber/CNET
NEW YORK--Facebook is the social network of the past, and the way it implements advertising doesn't really work, a Google executive overseeing the search giant's social-networking product said today.

Bradley Horowitz, the Google vice president of product for Google+, said Facebook isn't set up in a way that's compatible with the real world. People should be able to have a conversation with a certain group of friends without involving others. And they should be able to have real conversations, he said, not 140-character blurbs like Twitter.

"In designing Google+, we keep thinking about the real world, the way people actually are," Horowitz said today during a Business Insider conference in New York. "We're trying to make a product that's ergonomic for the way our attention is wired."

Meanwhile, Horowitz compared the ads in a Facebook user's newsfeed to a sandwich board. Such ads don't really have any context and often aren't very effective, he said.

"Jamming ads and agendas into user streams is pissing off users and frustrating brands too," he said. "That's not the way the world works."

Rather, in the real world, there has to be intent. When a person's hungry, he or she goes into a restaurant. Seeing an ad for a sandwich when they're not hungry or looking for it isn't very effective. But being able to search for a lunch place when hungry and finding recommendations from friends is much more effective.

"It turns out these are very valuable to users to have recommendations by the people they trust," he said. "Instead of sandwich boards... we revert back to the fundamentals of fulling the need the user has."

Horowitz added that Google doesn't "have to make payroll by jamming users with ads" on Google+.

Nicholas Carlson of Business Insider interviews Google's Bradley Horowitz. Shara Tibken/CNET
As Nicholas Carlson, the Business Insider editor interviewing Horowitz pointed out, Horowitz was essentially making an argument for Facebook to expand into search.

Search has been a pretty hot topic for Facebook in the past few months. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has said that Facebook is "pretty uniquely positionedto answer a lot of questions people have." It's sort of "friend mining" -- as CNET pointed out recently -- extracting specific answers to a question by mining the immensely data-rich social graph.

Horowitz, however, said today that "it turns out to be pretty hard" to make a search engine.

We've reached out to Facebook and will update when we hear back.

When asked if Google+ will ever incorporate ads, Horowitz said it would do so if there's an effective way to add them without upsetting users.

"We aren't struggling with how to monetize," he said. "We have real plans."

Google has tried social networking in the past but found little success. Its most recent attempt is Google+, which was launched last year to help it better compete with Facebook and other social networking sites. Google said in September that 100 million people are using Google+ each month, and it said it now has 400 million total users. That's still well below Facebook's user base but is a significant milestone for the new social network.

Horowitz declined to provide updated numbers today but said the figures from September are "stale." He added that Google+ is succeeding where Google's other social networking attempts failed largely because of the support of CEO Larry Page and other executives at Google.

"Larry has done something amazing," he said.

Google+ is designed around "Circles" that allow users to group people within their social sphere into different categories. It also includes a video chat feature dubbed "Hangouts," as well as other features.

Horowitz noted that Google+ currently is "foundational layer" for Google's other products -- the "identity, relationship, and interest system for Google." What it wants to be, he said, is the go-to place for people go to wish their friends happy birthday, much like Facebook is today except "uncluttered."

"We aspire to be a place where people can have uncluttered, meaningful connections. Communication is important. Like in the real world, context is important.... It's never fun to be late to a market, but it does afford us the opportunity to talk to users to see what needs aren't being met, what they like and don't like," Horowitz said.