Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Google's Sergey Brin is on Facebook: Of course

An article by Ryan Tate asks, "why is Google co-founder Sergey Brin so secretive about having a Facebook account?"  After all, aren't Facebook and Google currently fierce competitors?  (HT to Bill Bishop's tweet, article originally posted on Gawker here)

My initial reaction: Of course Sergey Brin has a Facebook account.  Of course he wants to do it "secretly".

Several years ago, there was a point when I realized I would likely be joining Microsoft China. It was also time for me to buy a new laptop. What did I buy? A MacBook Pro.

I felt that especially in my role as a user experience researcher at Microsoft it would be important to be deeply familiar not just with Microsoft products but their competitors as well.  Having a Mac at home would give me critical insights that wouldn't be readily apparent without extended use of a product. Also, I was also able to still have Microsoft Windows on it (dual-boot) and Microsoft develops products for a variety of Apple products.

As a user experience researcher I am very aware that my own experience with a particular product may not match the experiences of the target customers for a product.  However, having familiarity with a competing product can help one raise the right questions to ask to gain a better understanding of the users you're targeting and what you need to do to compete. 

I would think it would be beneficial for Sergey Brin to have at least a basic understanding of Facebook  -- whether he likes it or not -- from personal standpoint.  Especially for something like social networking, it is hard to grasp many of the ins and outs without some personal use.  And given his prominence and his role at Google, it seems understandable that he would want to keep a low profile there -- both for his personal privacy and not appearing to endorse Facebook publicly due to competition reasons as cited in Ryan Tate's article.

In fact, because of his personal account Sergey Brin may now be particularly appreciating a key aspect of the Facebook user experience:  "privacy" can tricky to say the least.  Despite the fact that he apparently hid his friends list from public view, "people in his greater social circle are able to see friends in common" and they were able to report what they saw.

To sum up...

Why do I think Sergey Brin has a Facebook account: to better appreciate the user experience and how it works so he can better help Google compete and innovate.

Why do I think Sergey Brin is being "so secretive about having a Facebook account": he doesn't want attention there nor to raise the profile of a competitor.

Finally, the article doesn't say if there are indications he uses it regularly so I am not sure it is fair when Ryan Tate writes that Sergey Brin (emphasis added):
"might not want prospective users to know how deeply enmeshed he is in a rival social network."
In fact, I think I have some exclusive evidence that he hasn't even logged on recently.

Sergey Brin still hasn't accepted my friend request.

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