I have said a bit recently about how Google could be looking to implement their new social network but Mark's comment in response to my last post really hit the mark (no pun intended):
"So, Google as a generic destination instead of just a search page?"
Google's primary business is all about sending you elsewhere and, while they make good revenue from the advertising setup around search, there is a lot to be said for keeping visitors at your site.
So, if we are to assume that by creating a well integrated, comprehensive and well designed social offering Google can compete effectively with Facebook then just how far could they go? Social gaming may be currently touted as the key battleground, and it may have a considerable impact in adoption rates, but Facebook is not going to stand still so Google.me will need something to truly differentiate itself.
Google has been accused of being a one trick pony and, so far, this is probably true. Eric Schmidt even admits that Google sees Android as a part of search because of the traffic it drives. Search is something Google does extremely well so why not use it to bolster your other products.
Unknown to most, Google.com includes Social Search which gives "results from people in your social circle" which currently includes content such as:
- Websites, blogs, public profiles, and other content linked from your friends' Google profiles
- Web content, such as status updates, tweets, and reviews, from links that appear in the Google profiles of your friends and contacts
- Images posted publicly from members of your social circle on Picasa Web and from websites that appear on their Google profiles
- Relevant articles from your Google Reader subscriptions
Google has the full weight of its search index to throw behind Google.me so how can social search be integrated into it? By using likes, shares and recommendations to influence search results Social Search could extend beyond the current "your social circle" functionality. Add an influence engine behind this to analyse numbers of retweets (or whatever the Google.me equivalent will be) etc. and, combined with normal search results, you can build a powerful real time trending solution which incorporates sources from right across the web rather than being limited to discussion within the status updates application (i.e. trending topics in Twitter).
It was reported earlier in the year that Facebook was driving more traffic to certain types of site than Google and this is obviously because of the social element involved. The types of sites given as examples were news and entertainment portals where, at the time, Facebook was driving 13% of all traffic compared to 7% from Google. Now, the majority of traffic to these sites is going to be direct - the reason Facebook is becoming a big traffic generator is because of the nature of social media users (and probably more so for Facebook than elsewhere) to gossip.
As such, it's not a worrying statistic for Google but, with their own social network, they could get their hands on some of those referrals and build it into their recommendations.
Integrating search (including social search) into your stream could be utilised by providing additional, related links for those explicitly shared by your friends - some kind of "you may also like" arrangement. Would this be too ambitious or complicated to implement considering the related links must be generated immediately? If this could be achieved without too many problems then having a related content selection available a click away or via a fly-out would be a great aid to discovery.
If the default URL shortener is Goo.gl (which it will, no doubt) then there is an ideal opportunity to perform a quick search for related content whilst generating the shortened address. It would also have the advantage of being able to immediately check the Goo.gl database for other instances of that share (much as Bit.ly and Tweetmeme already do). Being presented with a list of other users who shared the same link could be a great way to find new people to follow with similar interests.
With a huge search index from right across the web Google would, technically, also be able to provide real time stats in-stream - whether it be stats for links others have shared or stats for your own content. Content creators already link sites such as blogs to their Google profile; imagine being able to see the number of views, shares, tweets etc. all in one place so you can keep track of who is linking to your content and where.
The popularity of links being shared by your social circle could also be gauged and, as above, by examining links from right across the web and not just within the stream. This could be incredibly powerful and could even incorporate data from other tools such as Google Analytics.
Go for what you know
It is essential to diversify your business and not to put all your eggs in one basket but if you do something and you do it well why not use it to your advantage. Google should do just this.
What are your thoughts?
Image by Jeffery Beall