Liz Gannes

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Yup, It’s True: No Social at Google I/O

Like TechCrunch and Search Engine Land, we’ve been told by sources familiar with Google’s plans (guess who that is, since there are three of us writing these stories at the exact same time) that there will be no big social launches at the splashy Google I/O developer conference next week.

Some at the company apparently felt the need to get the word out ahead of mounting speculation that it would use I/O to at least elucidate a grand social strategy, if not a major social product.

The hypothesis that I/O would be a good time to talk about social doesn’t come from thin air. According to both internal plans and external expectations, Google is overdue for a major social play, even if it’s just to describe how it’s making all its products social.

Plus, Google’s social head, Vic Gundotra, is the diva of I/O. The Google leader most comfortable in the spotlight, he has been the key presenter at the last two I/O events, revving up the home crowd of Google developers with big demos, generous giveaways, as well as snarky jabs at competitors.

But, according to sources familiar with Google’s plans, the only social announcement planned for I/O is a preview of what the +1 button for publishers will look like.

The publisher +1 button, which will embed social signals within Google search results through user voting, won’t be available for a few more weeks. That’s despite the fact that +1 has been live on Google’s site since the end of March.

The final decision to hold social out of I/O was made within the last week, said sources, although it had been the tentative plan for the last month or so.

The conference plan is to focus the first day on Android, and the second day on Chrome.

The reason not to use I/O as a platform for a significant and highly anticipated project seems to be fear: Fear of hyping up expectations and fear of instant criticism and comparisons to the social giant Facebook.

There’s also a bit of superstition involved on Google’s part, said sources: The major launches at the last two I/O conferences, Google Wave and Google TV, have been flops. The company doesn’t want to have a hat trick of hyped failures.

Google made social a key part of its agenda in March 2010, when long-time executive Urs Hölzle called on the company to respond to the social challenge with a memo that Steven Levy’s “In the Plex” said was called internally “The Urs-Quake.”

The resulting mobilization was to make almost every product at Google social within a hundred days. It was code-named “Emerald Sea,” after a painting that showed a cresting wave enveloping a powerless ship (again with the fear-based motivation!).

A hundred days passed without the project being completed, so the deadline was pushed back. Then, “before the end of the year” became “April or May timeframe.” In that time we’ve only seen a trickle of social launches, most notably for Google’s search products.

Well, now it’s May, and there’s a stage ready and waiting, but Google doesn’t want to use it.