They say we are judged by the quality of our enemies. Maybe so. But given the gauntlet thrown down by Facebook at their F8 conference yesterday, if Google pick up where they left off, we’ll be judged by the quality of everyone else in our social graph…
Google are a data company. We all know that. But they’re also a company with discrete algorithms by which they divide up, sort, collate, filter and organize just about any kind of thing you can describe and place on a web page. Facebook on the other hand are like the wiring in an office block that just became the standard for every other office block, house, downtown apartment and every other building in the world. Or that’s what they’re hoping to be, anyway.
Google will have been watching yesterday’s proceedings very closely, especially so given Microsoft’s 5% share in Facebook bubbling to the surface in the form of Docs, their own do-all on-line productivity suite, not to be confused with their namesake Google Docs.
So what can we expect from Google? Well, after many years of trying and failing to crack social nut, they’ve managed to find the first clue (and their own arse with both hands, presumably) with their Buzz service, so they now think they’re a social company.
I’ve said this before, but I really don’t think Google even need to chase down the social web. It’s not their strength, it’s certainly not core to what they do and they have other opportunities open to them.
The web is changing rapidly and between social media and social networking, Google’s own PageRank — that fabled algorithm of theirs that quantifies the value of each and every web page on the web — is now under enormous pressure, given that people are, in increasing numbers, finding things via other means.
But if what Facebook is proposing offers a glimpse into the future, then we could expect Google to create a very different kind of algorithm, one that quantifies, you, me everyone else besides.
We are surrounded by digital islands, adrift in oceans of data. For the first time in history, populations of people, dwarfing entire countries, exist on the web. Facebook has a population of 500 million, which is larger than the United States of America.
These citadels, tethered to silos of data have broader needs, often not served by Facebook. And then there are the growing number of businesses arriving, whose needs are even more exacting. We all know about the various scams at work on Facebook and perhaps they aren’t the most responsive to such things. But what if there was a way to measure the authenticity of person, to know if they were real, fake or just another scam artist?
PeopleRank — personal brand management by another name
Facebook want to connect people, which is fine. Google will want to rank them, which has some unusual possibilities. Take for example an enormously successful recent article over on Octane about the investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority into Chris Cardell and his dubious newspaper cutting “scam”.
In a future where PeopleRank exists, given the huge surge in search traffic I experienced for “Chris Cardell scam” and similar, Google would be sifting through articles like mine to determine factors such as the:
- trust in me, Wayne Smallman;
- quality of my article;
- authenticity of Octane;
- validity of the claim;
- number, quality, authenticity, and validity of any counterclaims.
And then there’s the small matter of all those social networks and social media websites that have the undesirable effect of undermining Google’s search products. Facebook would love to have everyone using their profiles to sign in with. And since Facebook is moving over to OAuth for their user authentication, that opens up and even wider swath of the web. So while Facebook standardize the wiring and the plumbing for the big houses, Google busy themselves monitoring the ebb and flow of data pertaining to each and everyone of us, ranking us as we go along.
If you consider the huge amount of interest in things like personal branding and brand management, where people attempt to curate and consolidate their activities on the web, those who started early would take a huge lead.
Stuart MacLennan, Labour candidate for Moray would have been a more high profile recipient of some very unwanted calibration of Google’s PeopleRank, had it been around recently, given one of his many crass, stupid and insulting comments on Twitter:
“God this fairtrade, organic banana is shit. Can I have a slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified one please?”
That kind of public act of abject social networking stupidity would have had him sorted and filtered in short order, of that there is no doubt. But it does also raise the question of what kind of indiscretions we’d be allowed to get away with. The odd few expletives? A mild racially indifferent joke? A sexually crass comment? And then there’s the cultural enormity of one seemingly glib comment causing outrage in the Middle East, or Asia.
I can see you, sat there, shaking your heads. Well think again — Google are already collating people like you with their Google Profiles product, while Gmail aggregates the things you’re most interested in and sorts the people you’re connected to. So somewhere inside Google, PeopleRank already exists…