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Summary:

Google has had its share of social media flops, and many smart analysts now think the search just doesn’t have “social” in its nature. But the company’s announcement last week of real-time search shows what exactly Google should do to remain relevant in social media.

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Google has had its share of social media flops, and many smart analysts think the search giant just doesn’t have “social” in its nature. As I discuss in my column at GigaOM Pro, Google needs to play in social, because search and advertising must tap into the data generated by social media activities to improve relevance and targeting. The company announced its real-time search last week, with its focus on Twitter and Facebook content, and in doing so, showed us what it needs to do to remain relevant in social media.

Platforms and Services

Google should be a provider of APIs and services that feed social media, rather than another social network or other time-sink application. Google learned well from Microsoft, who invented the modern notion of “platform ecosystem,” i.e., a collection of APIs and services other developers build on, with a UI that locks in users. Google innovated in platforms by providing a revenue stream for its ecosystem, and by encouraging free and easy mash-ups. As long as the company can harness the data it needs to fuel search and ad targeting from services, it doesn’t need a social site or app.

Google Should Leverage Its Strengths

To succeed in social, Google should focus on APIs and web services that exploit its strongest properties:

  • Search may lose luster as the dominant navigation paradigm, but passive stream-watching will never replace it completely. Google just showed it still does search best.
  • Google’s ad networks dominate search, and are strong in direct-marketing display. Google must integrate social data to help power behavioral targeting.
  • Maps are — along with search — Google’s technology most usable for mash-ups.
  • Android is gaining traction in smartphones, and is far more customizable than Apple technology.

Gmail has a solid user base, and is a logical entry point for communications services, but neither Wave nor Buzz successfully exploited it. The former failed because it was complicated and lacked a killer app, and the latter hasn’t taken off because it hasn’t differentiated itself from Twitter or Facebook updates.

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  1. Google is certainly playing in the open API space – and working to bring others into the mix – which is a good thing – but if they’re to have any significant play here, they’re going to need to compete with facebook and twitter – who aren’t playing the open game as ‘cleanly’. So in my mind – for Google to do anything more than just tinker around the edges with social – they need to jump in and set the example an open and flexible social network.

    I blogged about my thoughts on the subject over the weekend here – http://andybryant.squarespace.com/blog/2010/8/28/google-me-the-future-of-social-networking.html

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  2. A contrarian view:

    …. organizing the worlds information …..

    In other words the underlying goal is not navigation, which is a UI layer on top of of the underlying structure. Search is a lousy way of organizing data since the correlations are lost in representation. But people are already working to fix that[1]. What happens if one can not see the bigger picture and looses the correlations in the process [2]?

    Google depends on links(correlation), what happens if someone like (FB) keeps those, and just publishes some/partial data? Will search be affected? What is the underlying math for social networks?

    In other words if Google doesn’t crack social and the underlying math and has access to all data and correlations they might be locked out of future organizations of the web.
    Google depends on a free open access to all data and correlations, partial data and correlations won’t do.
    This is a slippery slope and gains momentum as it goes. In other words it will not happen tomorrow or the day after, but there is momentum building up.

    [1] Graphs , Trailmeme>, ….

    [2] How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late: Andy Grove

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  3. Google needs to do more than just leverage its strengths, it needs to hit the gym and focus on its integration and coordination muscle groups.

    Social isn’t rocket science. If Om had several billions in the bank, he could just hire a ringer. Google can hire a professional team, or ten.

    Google seems to appreciate the value of social portals, is aggressively securing footholds in social spaces, and has made several daring, innovative, and successful inroads already. While the “not part of their DNA” record spins over and over, Google seems to me to be moving in the right direction.

    At the same time, recent ACSI data suggest that while the fans may be filling seats (for now), they aren’t particularly pleased with FB’s game. I mean, for God’s sake, people are happier with their airline (I say this having returned from a trip just last week)! Clearly, opportunity is knocking.

    If Wave taught Google anything, hopefully, it demonstrated that great ideas and great technology will still amount to failure, without the right coordination and integration with concurrent properties.

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  4. I have written about Google Me a few times (most recently today, http://www.foursides.ca/blog/2010/8/30/jeff-jarvis-google-me-and-the-future-of-the-internet.html), and I believe the success of Google Me will be because of two things:
    1) Transform social media into a site for content creation, as well as, sharing that content.
    2) Change how we control our relationships through niche networks, or friend lists, so we only publish certain events to the circle of friends we want to see it.

    APIs are what held Google Buzz back and are definitely important to building a strong platform, but rely on having great data to work with. Having tools to create great content will be the way to move forward.

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  5. [...] network effect, and the most likely candidates — Facebook primarily, as well as Twitter and Google — offer a lot of APIs that can be mashed up and applied outside any semi-walled garden. Smart [...]

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