For Google, Social Networking Is Just A Means To An End

To the folks who think Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has “failedat social networking, or is “losing” the space to Facebook – chillax; Google isn’t even trying.

Google is not showing an interest in this space because it wants to build YASN (Yet Another Social Network). For it, the true value of social networking, like many other products it offers, is likely in enhancing its core search (and therefore, advertising) business, by showing you results influenced by your acquaintances.

First, Google needs to know who your acquaintances are. That’s what Google Profiles was for. Profile pages may look pretty spartan as far as personal web presences go, but everyone who has plugged their many social network identities in to their profile has been helping Google understand with whom they have relationships across the web.

Slowly, Google has been learning our social graph. One outcome has been the Social Search feature debuted in October – but this still feels experimental, rather than a final destination, and is only available to U.S. users.

For all the pounding it’s taken, Google Buzz is just one more expression of the graph Google has assembled – the input/output part. To me, Buzz was only ever intended as an inducement to populating that graph. The reasoning: if people are invited to aggregate all their lifestream outputs and to update all their social profiles from one place, they might see value in plugging their social identities in to Google Profiles (after all, how many Google users have ever bothered to create a Google Account?).

The more a search engine knows about you (and the people you know), the more relevant its results might be (and, perhaps, the higher its CPMs), because — the theory goes — we tend to trust personal recommendations.

A paper by Google’s lead social user experience researcher Paul Adams says Google should accommodate this by accounting for users’ multiple identities. In other words, Google’s role in this game may be in providing descriptive social layers atop our social networks, rather than re-inventing the Facebook wheel by merely creating another network – a meta network, if you like.

That’s why I would expect any upcoming “Google Me” product announcement, which has been rumoured, to be not so much a social network as a new attempt at wrapping together Google Profiles and Google Buzz, minus the privacy cock-ups. If this is not the way Google is thinking, it probably should be.

Facebook and Google are each coming at the same social search prospect from opposite ends of the continuum — one a search site looking at learning relationships, the other a social network trying to upskill in search. In the latter’s case, it’s through a Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) partnership that places Bing results on Facebook search pages.

Google is no more a social network than Facebook is a search engine — perhaps even less so. But, while neither has yet cracked this nut, the game is long and the rewards ample.

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