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

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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.

3 Responses to “For Google, Social Networking Is Just A Means To An End”

  1. Interesting point James, ‘I’m also far more comfortable with Google having this level of equity in my online life than facebook’ Google is so far very open about what it does and we all like Google because of what they bring to us. An immense and growing search engine and ‘free public apps’ that are helping the average joe and education. Very smart and very likeable… compared to facebook and what have facebook offered anyway? Just a new way to fish for advertising dollars by dumbing down social networking.

  2. JamesBourner

    Chris, I couldn’t agree more. And Google do ‘seamless’ oh so well.

    It’s things like this that make me admire Google all the more. In an environment that moves this fast Ground-up seems like the best way to get the most out of something like this, as opposed to trying to define a framework which runs the risk of becoming distorted and therefore redundant pretty quickly.

    On a personal note I’m far more comfortable with Google having this level of equity in my online life than Facebook, for today at least.

    Right, that’s far to much Google praise for today, back to work now!

  3. If you take YouTube, Google Reader, Google Buzz, Google Friend Connect, Google Docs, Google Latitude, Google Wave, Blogger, Picasa, Gmail, Gcaht, SMS messaging, and tie them altogether in a wall type app you really have something. Then make them all available on an Android phone too.

    That is what Google is out to do here, not imitate Facebook. Google has simply built a social network in reverse, bringing in the wall page last.

    Also when you consider that you can use any of these world class apps independently without the wall, they become much more powerful too. And they are all open to the public, anyone can read my Google Buzz posts.

    Lastly, with Google now requiring Google logins for YouTube and hence Google profiles, expect the lack of them you described to change fast.