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Why Google Should Fear the Social Web

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gigaompro Google made a number of announcements last week, including one that will see it partner with San Francisco-based Twitter to get paid access to the micromessaging service’s data feed. The company also said it would launch a social search effort as part of Google Labs. The moves got me thinking about some of the challenges that Google will face in coming years, especially from Facebook. I’ve outlined them for our subscription research service, GigaOM Pro, in Why Google Should Fear the Social Web.

The growing pervasiveness of fixed and wireless broadband will impact how we create and consume information. Thanks to that pervasive connectivity, there will be an explosion of information, which will make it difficult to find the information we actually want. Google, despite its obvious infrastructure advantages, faces a tough job of sifting through these proverbial mountains of data. Unless, of course, the Mountain View, Calif., based search giant starts embracing concepts quite alien to its DNA, such as the social web.

While it may currently be unfashionable to question Google’s long-term chances, the fact is that the growing influence of Facebook will pose a major risk to Google’s 10 blue links-based business model. The social networking site introduced new features today that allow it to extend its influence (or tentacles) even further across the web and in the process, further shift the focus away from search to discovery — discovery that uses your social graph.

The popularity of social media discovery services is reflected in this image, which comes courtesy of Reddit:

37 Responses to “Why Google Should Fear the Social Web”

  1. HÃ¥kan Jonsson

    The social web is not alien to google, they are just doing it differently. Instead of a single dedicated site, they are making the entire internet social. It is just not as easy to see.

  2. timjones17

    Why Apple Should Fear the Android- well Apple fears it already. Google’s diversification and it’s timing is perfect in making the big push for Android as more and people people are upgrading from their regular phones such as the RAZR and featurephones such as the iPhone, to smartphones, and as carriers are bringing on faster networks such as LTE that makes better use of advanced mobile browsers thus bypassing apps. dunno, Facebook feels kinda like a walled garden.

  3. doubtingthomas

    Maybe FACEBOOK is here to stay. Maybe it isn’t and some new flavor will pop up. But, we don’t need it. It can easily be replaced.

    Think of NBC/CBC/ABC — people thought they would be behemoths forever. Now, they are fragmented stations in a sea of stations. FACEBOOK will likely go that way. But, it won’t take decades, it take years. Worshiping FACEBOOK today is short sighted.

    GOOGLE on the other hand is something people need. And, they need it to stay BIG or get BIGGER – it serves functional purposes both for Consumers and Advertisers. BING may be chasing them. YAHOO’s as good as gone. But, GOOGLE is far more pervasive in people’s lives than FACEBOOK. We just don’t talk about it as much.

    But, the day GOOGLE offers a new mobile service with one number for life, free Android handsets and free SMS messaging? That’s it, they own everyone…

    GOOGLE can think long-term and I doubt they really worry about FACEBOOK or TWITTER in the way you portray here. If anything, GOOGLE wins by the continued migration of people from the real world to the false world of social media (OK, maybe “false” is a bit too strong, and I could have used “virtual,” but, the point is, it’s NOT the physical world).

  4. this is why sites like are becoming so interesting….now, if facebook were to make an acquisition in such a space (content nav and discovery with personalization and a tap into the social graph), then there would be a clear leg up on elgoog ;)

  5. Joe Sanchez

    Your article come across as biased. You address challenges to Google but do not address challenges to other companies like Facebook.

    Additionally, asking “Who is your god now?” implies that there will only be one winner amongst these companies. History has shown that the market can and will support more than one technology service provider. It is entirely possible that the market will mutually support providers of data web and social web services because different market segments will have needs applicable to one that may not be applicable to another. Assuming that the data web and the social web will converge may be a faulty assumption.

    History is also replete with examples of companies that captured significant “market share” (depending on how market share was defined) early on only to fade as other competitors proved to be more adaptable and nimble in address market needs.

  6. I think Facebook will continue to stay relevant to the social space, buddies, photos, staying in touch. Facebook data has limited usefulness and for a limited number of people within a limited context . But the internet is more than that, you cannot reduce it to personal social interaction between friends. Twitter is far more interesting but as a broadcast platform, not from friends to friends but to communicate to a large number of people. Facebook and Twitter are great tools for the media and bloggers.journalists community which perhaps explains the hype. But look beyond that and the usefulness begins to look less widespread.

  7. Libran Lover

    Om wrote: The moves got me thinking about some of the challenges that Google will face in coming years, especially from Facebook.

    It is always amusing when I read Om talk of Facebook as a threat to Google. And, I am always surprised that the usually sharp Gigaom readers don’t call him out on something that obviously doesn’t make sense.

    Social networks are a tiny, tiny part of the larger Internet and all the information continuously produced in the world. Last I heard, Facebook is not the company indexing the entire Internet and on a mission to organize the information in the entire world. Somehow, I can’t imagine anybody firing up Facebook for a quick search any time in the coming years!

    • Let me try and take a stab at this.

      Information = data in context
      Context = Organized data

      Social data is mostly organized data, from that it’s easier to conjecture what information the user really wants(intent ads) or in general is interested in (display ads)

      Business value = Eyeballs * intent

      Facebook has lots of Eyeballs but hasn’t come up with a way to monetize or even identify intent, hence it’s not a stellar business just yet (if ever). But it’s easy for them to cut a deal let’s say with Bing to do the general indexing, use it’s data to get to a users context and be a better search engine then Google. Microsoft is well aware off this, Google I don’t know, Facebook I don’t know.

      Problem is business is not research and it takes them time to wrap their heads around new insides. Also some people don’t like to see what you know about them. So we’ll see.

  8. I think you’re underestimating Google’s grip on users and the social muscle it has barely flexed yet. You’ve left out how Google will use its wide reaching products/services like Gmail, Android, Google Wave, Google Chrome, Google Maps, etc. to strengthen it’s position in the social web.

    • Kevin

      I don’t underestimate anyone’s capability. I was right there when Microsoft took the nukes to Netscape. So Google is not going to be a pushover. But it is not going to be a cakewalk as well, because they are late.

      Whenever I talk to insiders or those who leave the company, the pretty much talk about the same problem: data web vs social web approaches and how Google almost always embraces the former.

      Anyway we shall see…

  9. All complex systems are finite.
    If you want to extract information out of a social graph it becomes a complex system.
    I wouldn’t give up on Google just yet. According to Eric Schmidt they are on the verge to be able to rank social data. Either they do understand how meaning is created, see, or they do some Voodoo. In the later case you might be right.
    Point is, even with a finite machine setup you will be faster then any human social graph in discovery. Which will create a new problem of ever more complex relations being highlighted.