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Google’s Mayer questions value of Social Media

Google are hunting for the next big thing, and to them, Social Media must look just the ticket. In a Venture Beat interview of Google VP Marissa Mayer, we get an insight into their thinking on Social Media…

Google is hunting for the next big thing, and to them, Social Media must look just the ticket. In a Venture Beat interview of Google VP Marissa Mayer, we get an insight into their thinking on Social Media…

In this detailed Q&A, Marissa talks candidly about Social Media and how Google is taking a long-term approach to the short-term successes of Social Media.

“Social search is hard because the intuitive thing you would do online to mirror normal social networks and other social interactions just aren’t that effective, compelling or even reasonable…”

Marissa goes on to compare the social search ideas Google have had with Amazon. And while the comparison is a good one, Google is clearly missing a fundamental step, which their search products can’t bridge.

She gives the example of: “Other users like you also searched for..” or “other people who did this search also did searches…”, but as Marissa notes:

“It works to give you related queries, but again it doesn’t fundamentally change the social experience or capture that movie or restaurant recommendation request that would be one of the classical examples of verbal social search.”

And that is the heart of the problem Google faces in their attempt to grasp the nettle that is Social Media and Social Networking.

In their mind, they’re looking at Social Networking specifically through the eyes of a business model that’s fundamentally tied to their search products.

And here’s the dilemma: imagine one of your friends performed a search two weeks ago. Two weeks later, you perform the self same search. You go to Google and you see: “Other users like you also searched for…” which catches your eye and you follow.

But all you see are search results. Which did your friend click on? Did they find anything useful? Did they actually go to the cinema and the restaurant? Were either of them any good?

Currently, there’s no Google product that gathers all of that information, which is the data gap Google are being left blinded by. I call this Google’s search information paradox.

Google can’t compete with everyone. And to better advise us, they need to work with other services, certainly those that offer ratings and reviews of different things; like movies, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, holiday resorts, models of car et cetera.

Newsweek is calling this the Revenge of the Experts, and they’re right, too. It’s all good & well to ‘blog about stuff, but the accuracy and the quality are at best questionable when such commentary is emerging from people like .. well, me!

And after all, information is a useful weapon, wielded wisely or not.

Google must have either seen an opportunity or weakness in Wikipedia and decided to roll their own service, one that would be democratic, social and UGC-driven, which Google calls Knol.

But from a search perspective, to solve this particular information paradox that Google finds themselves in, might we expect something along the lines of a Google PIM? I doubt, but we could well see Personal Information Management tools turning up in several other of their applications, like Gmail.

Intriguingly, one thing of value that Marissa discusses is using Gmail as a basis for social search, which would be a neat segue. This comes as no surprise, given both Google and Yahoo! have intimated their intentions to leverage their respective email services to allow people to build their Social Networks.

As I’ve said before, Google currently don’t get Social Media. And based on the comments by Marissa Mayer, Google’s leading VP in search, I don’t see any solid evidence of them addressing this problem.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean: Venture Beat asks an excellent question: “Does influencing existing Google results with third-party social networks make sense?”

To which Marissa replies:

“It would be a surprise if one day users opened up their browsers, began using Google, and friendships they had formed on MySpace began to rerank their results or in some way influence the page. It would be non-intuitive to them. As a result, we don’t think it would be a great product decision or a great user experience.”

How are user-generated suggestions non-intuitive? If I could tag a bunch of trusted friends as sources for referrals, that would immediately add a visual filter to my search results that could lead me towards a website that I might otherwise ignore.

I can see some of you furrowing your brow and thinking to yourselves: “Hang on a minute — isn’t this what StumbleUpon is doing right now?”

And you’d be exactly right! Marissa is effectively dismissing StumbleUpon as being non-intuitive, when StumbleUpon is exactly the kind of thing Google should have been doing years ago:

“You see, here’s Google raking in all of this data. Much of this data is tagged to a personal in particular.

If you’ve got a Google Account, then Google know (sorry, see) what you’ve found.

If you’re making good use of your Search History, then Google knows what you value.

How much better could this be if Google were to let people vote on what they find and then roll this new-found knowledge into their data?

How much more value would be added to the ‘best guess for thy nearest neighbor’ if voting one way or t’other was added into the mix?”

Nature abhors a vacuum. Ironically, businesses positively thrive on information voids. And while Google dithers on the merits & machinations of Social Media, Facebook is looking to squeeze itself into this particular info hole whole-heartedly…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

5 replies on “Google’s Mayer questions value of Social Media”

Some thought provoking stuff Wayne. So what do you think about something like OpenID being used to help tie all this together? Or FriendFeed, isn’t that one created by a bunch of ex-Googlers?

People are so worried about Google knowing everything and what they can do with all that data. I’ll admit it is a little scary the data that they do have on us and what that data could be used for in the wrong hands. Social media is so segmented right now and anyone else that is like myself has an account on more sites than I can remember. Even sticking with some of the bigger ones you still have a Twitter account, Facebook Page, Digg, StumbleUpon, Mixx, Google account, Netvibes, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr … See where I’m going here. I don’t know if anyone gets it right now and that is where the confusing is.

They say the collective knowledge of the world is doubled ever six years now… SIX YEARS! We need some sort of order and organization…

I have absolutely no idea where I’m going with this comment so I’ll stop now. 🙂 You definitely got me thinking here and I thank you for that.

Whatever people’s thoughts are on the data relating to them being held somewhere, the next big thing is going to be data portability and how all of this disparate and unconnected data — spread across the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, Mixx, Netvibes, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and Google — is going to be pulled together into one definitive source by someone somewhere.

The question is, will the advantages / benefits to us of someone doing that out-weigh the perceived disadvantages?

The problem with pulling all this into one definitive source is that once there, people will tend to separate it again. I user Netvibes, and I have tabbed categories with feeds in it pertaining to those categories. To me its an easier way to find new information.

I have tabs called “CSS”, “API’s”, “Tech News”, “UI”, and I even create specific ones like “Adobe AIR”, and “JQuery”.

The other issue is duplicate entries on duplicate logs. I think somewhere along the line “truth” in posting needs to be established.

Often I click a feed and it’s just a tag line “Wayne at Blah! Blah! Technology discusses creating swiss cheese with lasers” So again I don’t jump to the article at hand.

I love BBT because its original content. It may have links to, or relate to, but there is always insight or commentary, not just a link.

So how do we filter through the redundancy trash?

Hi Dan (again!) Do you mean duplicate content, or scraped content?

I see people scraping my content for MFA (Made For AdSense) ‘blogs, but they don’t bother changing the links, so they end up giving away back-links.

Glad you like the ‘blog.

It’s just as well people like all of the nonsense I think up, or I’d just be wasting my time, wouldn’t I?! 😉

Another piece I completely forgot in my ramblin’ is to mention OpenSocial which is Google’s baby to gain control of social identities by creating an API to share data across networks.

So to say that “Google is clearly missing a fundamental step” probably isn’t accurate as OpenSocial is that next step.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on OpenSocial and how it ties into solving this issue.

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