Don't you wish you were a fly on the wall in a boardroom at the Googleplex? A variety of sources reported Wednesday and Thursday that Google had bought Slide, a designer of social applications and games, for some 9-digit figure (neither Slide nor Google is commenting and there were conflicting reports on the actual price). The question is not how much Google paid, but exactly how Google plans to leverage its latest acquisition and its recent major investment in Facebook staple Zynga.
While only that fly can tell us for sure, some additional pieces are coming together here. Google has search, email, calendaring, and collaboration nailed. They make money hand over foot on search-driven ads and enterprises are slowly starting to embrace their Apps suite. Android is kicking butt all over the place. But Facebook is still stickier than Google and Google's social efforts so far (Wave, Buzz, and Orkut) have all died on the vine. Google just can't seem to do with social what it has with so many other elements of electronic communication and Web 2.0.
And yet social gaming just doesn't strike me as the solution. SuperPoke! Pets? Probably not going to do much for Google's stickiness (and subsequently, its ad revenue) or its brand. Neither will Farmville. Would you entrust your company's data to Facebook if they started offering SaaS products for the enterprise? Yeah, I did't think so. And if Google's entire social strategy rides on SuperPocus Academy of Magic, then the first real Facebook challenger isn't exactly waiting around the corner.
Google has always been all about the Web as a platform. It makes sense that it would be a platform for recreation, just as it is for entertainment (via YouTube), information (via search), communication (via Gmail and Voice), and collaboration (via Apps). So Google Games (or whatever these investments evolve into) sounds like just another platform, right? However, given all the talk of Google Me, one can't help but wonder where Slide, Zynga, and other social gaming developers fit into the bigger social picture.
Google didn't become the multi-billion dollar giant it is today by missing trends and poorly understanding user habits online. Social gaming will only be one piece of a much bigger pie in which Google is both a horizontal and vertical platform satisfying consumer and enterprise needs on almost every level the Web can address. The curiosity, though, over their gaming acquisitions in the context of social platforms is driving me nuts. Slide won't do for social networking what Gmail did for email. So where does it all fit in? Talk back below and share your theories.