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Exclusive Interview with Former Product Manager of Social and Mobile Apps at Google

In exclusive interview, I chat with the former Product Manager of Google Mobile and Social apps. We chat about his latest venture and about his role at Google. We also talked about what things the search giant hasn’t achieved but want to achieve no matter what.

Jyri Engestrom has been a successful man founding Jaiku in 2006. Jaiku is a micro –blogging service that reminids me of Twitter and that got very popular in Europe. Not that long after it was founded; Google acquired it in October of 2007. Because of this, Engestrom passes to the Google workforce as Product Manager of Mobile and Social apps. 

While he was still working on directing Jaiku, he was working on apps that some of you might know. Some of these are Gmail, as a mobile client, Mobile Calendar, Mobile Contacts, Mobile Enterprise apps, and the early stages of Latitude. But according to Engestrom, while working on these and Jaiku, he was working there to developed early tools for what ended up being called Buzz.

According to him, at the time he was there, Buzz didn’t even have a name. He was interested in building an “independent property” that could compete directly with the likes of Facebook. Eventually, Google took Buzz (activity stream) as part of Gmail, took Google Profiles (credited to Engestrom) and made it part of Google Search and Latitude as part of a mobile client.

For Engestrom this didn’t make any sense, as it is not coherent to users because everything is fragmented, not in one place. This was not what Engestrom planned, so he decided to leave to work on other things.

To this date, Google still trying to decipher how to compete with Facebook and other social networks and according to Engestrom, Google’s culture is search and their goal is to build a “killer search engine”. Engestrom states, “their culture is about search and changing a culture takes a lot of time to do.” 

If you have any doubts about Google wanting to compete with Facebook here is a recent article by Mashable that details the recent change of CEO’s on the company. Larry Page, one of Google’s founder takes the place of Eric Schmidt this past week. It was at this event that Google’s directive board changed a bit and this year bonuses depend greatly on the success of the social media initiatives. According to Mashable, one of the reasons Page is CEO is to fix and adjust social media strategies at Google.

This strongly fits with what Engestrom expressed. He says that although they attacked this social problem late, somehow they will found a way to compete with the likes of Facebook.

So what happened to Engestrom after leaving Google?

In the present, Engestrom is the CEO of Ditto. Ditto is a geo-location mobile app currently available for iOS devices. Through it you take pre-determined categories like “working”, “eating”, “chat”, etc. and place your location to let people know of what you do or recommend.

Ditto was created in the spring last year just for fun and based on a desired by Engestrom. He later showed it to friends that got very excited about it. Later on September he got a round of Angel investment and founded the company that launched the finish product on March of 2011.  

First Ditto prototype, Spring 2010. Image provided by Jyri Engestrom.

When asked if Ditto takes inspiration from Jaiku, Engestrom answered that if there’s something Ditto takes from Jaiku it should be the recommendations that users game me through Jaiku on where to go to eat, what place to visit, etc. The idea of creating a service based on recommendation users give each other really appealed to him.

Ditto, according to him, makes it easy to discover recommendations about restaurants, movies and other types of activities without having to type anything and strictly for mobile users.

Ditto in the present.

Regarding social networks these days and how Ditto fits in, Engestrom commented that is hard to make noise when the App Store is so big (300,000 apps). To make progress you have to create something that is simpler than Facebook, much more fun than Twitter and more useful than Foursquare and this applies to any social network. 

According to him is all about discovery. The discovery of new things to do, new places to go and it is a problem that is going to the social aspect of things and social is going mobile. To solve this discovery problem is what holds the key to success on new social networks. But this doesn’t relate only to localization, but also to things like Netflix where people have to find out what they want to watch next. 

If he was to create Facebook now, he would start by doing it as a mobile app. Nowadays we are moving from one place to another telling what we do. Months ago people found that telling everybody where you were was something odd but people has always been interested on what we do. In the present we tell everybody were we are and what we do, we give each other’s recommendations.

Ditto is a free app that you can find on the App Store [iTunes Link] and you should give it a try, can’t get simpler than that.  

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