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Social Media bigger than Google’s search business?

Tuesday, 8 April 2008 — by

Social Media is redefining how we not only write our content, but how we distribute and interact with it. Google is presently trying to get a fix on Social Media in a way that relates to the rest of their business. But I’m reminded of a mountain and a guy called Mohammed

Social Media could well be an even bigger deal than Google or even Microsoft. In its infancy, it’s still a formidable prospect, one that could have far-reaching implications across the whole media industry.

I firmly believe Social Media could seriously damage Google if they don’t come to terms with its way of doing things, instead of trying to bend it to their own way of doing things.

My belief is, Social Media could attack right at the heart of how Google makes money — their search algorithm:

“… while people like you & me are finding stuff on Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit and, we’re not searching for stuff on Google — and that attacks at the very heart of Google’s revenues.

Instead of ‘Googling’ for something, we find stuff being sent to us as emails from friends, in our profiles, in a friends’ lists of favourites, or any number of user-generated websites, ‘blogs, RSS feeds, Social Networks and Social Media portals.

While we’re busying ourselves voting and commenting on this stuff, we’re not using Google’s search algorithm, and we’re not clicking on Sponsored Links, either.”

This isn’t going to happen over night, for sure. But unless the threat is addressed now, curing the problem might just get much more expensive.

For those familiar with this on-going theme of mine, one of highlighting Google not getting Social Media, they could be forgiven for being a little jaded. But wherever I look, the problem is persisting and not be being addressed, even at the highest level.

Marissa Mayer — the future of social search

Here’s the continuation from the first installment of my analysis of an interview with Google VP Marissa Mayer by Venture Beat.

In fairness to Marissa, a lot of what she describes is balanced and logical. But the benefits of those understandings are, for me at least, undone by Google’s general lack of Social Media comprehension, which I find puzzling.

As an example of what I mean, here’s Marissa’s take on the function of Google’s PageRank algorithm with regards to page views by friends:

“PageRank itself relies on the link structure of the web to try to find the most authoritative pages. For example, it’s clear that people would attribute more authority to the pages that their friends have visited.”

Why? If someone was to see me walk into a cinema or a restaurant and then emerge again, does that mean I enjoyed my time there? Of course not. I might not have seen either a film, or ate.

So simply tracking people paying a visit to one website or another is of zero value. The value lies in the transaction, not the action.

This is where UGC (User-Generated Content), such as reviews are of paramount importance, not just to Social Media, but to the future of search as a whole.

It’s worth reading the Venture Beat article. There’s some very interesting ideas in the interpretations of Marissa’s comments, which offer a glimpse into where Google and Facebook are both likely to be heading, certainly with their “Social Ads” concepts.

What really interests me here is how both Google and Facebook are looking to Social Ads to really hone their advertising models, to pretty much make their advertising systems non-annoying.

I think it’s entirely feasible, but it’s not going to be easy, or quick. The amount of historical data they’d need in place before they could start offering up Social Ads with any degree of accuracy would be formidable.

The real question is, will advertising ever not be annoying? But there’s also the danger of seriously pissing people off, too:

“Google starts with tens of millions of accounts, but outside of Orkut, they’re not social network users used to sharing information about their activities with friends. Putting Google users’ names next to ads would likely come as even more of a shock to Google users than Facebook users.”

Now, using an extreme example, imagine you (OK, maybe a friend of yours) likes porn. You perform a search on Facebook for something to your tastes. And lo! Up pops and advert with the words: “Cheryl also searched for…”

To you, this wasn’t a biggie, but for Cheryl, she’d probably be appalled. Especially since she was only searching for something related to a college project and not for her own carnal delectation.

In the world of Social Networking, context is to queen what content is to king.

As a major player, Google has a massive audience, one totaling hundreds of millions from all over the world. But that’s a good thing, right?

Yes, so long as Google keeps getting things right. But getting things wrong on such a scale is something not worth dwelling on, really.

Google isn’t Mohammed, and if Social Media is to be the mountain, it ain’t going anywhere, unless we the people using Digg, StumbleUpon,, Reddit, Sphinn, Mixx and everyone else says so…

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Comment and be known

Paula → Tuesday, 8 April 2008 @ 14:47 BDT

Wow, great post, Wayne, thanx!

The first time I saw one of these ads on FaceBook I was totally freaked out, I was very happy when they gave us the option to opt out of such ads.

I have to admit, I think of Google as being so much more than just search anymore, I rarely use it for search, unless I’m researching something for work, but I use so many of their other services. I will be very sad if Google does leave because of Social Media, but I completely agree that Google needs to figure out a way to become a player in the social media world. I’m sure if they put their minds to it, they could be just as good, socially speaking, as Digg or StumbleUpon.

Kyle James → Wednesday, 9 April 2008 @ 4:08 BDT

Guys, Google IS doing something to get control of Social Media… it’s called OpenSocial. This open API is destined to ultimately allow a uniform advertising across social networks.

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 9 April 2008 @ 8:35 BDT

Hi Kyle, I wrote about OpenSocial a few weeks ago. It’s a great idea, but it’s not something Google can use to control Social Media.

Essentially, it’s an infrastructure for their Gadgets, which are just small, stand-alone applications.

Of the technologies Google have right now, their Social Graph is by far the most promising. But a control mechanism for Social Media it is not. If anything, it’s a lubricant, but one that’s not foundational, in the sense that Social Media would survive without it.

In fact, if Google hadn’t come up with something like the Social Graph, someone else would have…

Chris → Wednesday, 9 April 2008 @ 12:53 BDT

Personally, I really like how StumbleUpon incorporated the recommendations of your friends into Google search. Google should think about doing something similar. As you say, you’re far more likely to look at something if it comes from a friend.

The amount of historical data they’d need in place before they could start offering up Social Ads with any degree of accuracy would be formidable.

Google had me making a tin foil hat when I read an article in The Register that they are developing eavesdropping software to serve you “relevant ads”. Who knows how much data they have on the average person.

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 9 April 2008 @ 15:05 BDT

Hi Chris, thanks for the comment, mate!

You’ve managed to pull this article into something of a segue into an article I have planned for later on — the search engines warned over data retention by the European Commission.

All of which undermines a concept of mine, which I call the Found Engine, something that would rely on huge stores of personal data…

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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