Taking social identity to the non-social web.

# The role of the social web is expanding and its influence is felt far beyond the networks we use to connect. The next step was always to incorporate more data from the rest of the web.

Identity service

Google+ Sign-InFrom the beginning, Google+ was always intended as an identity service but some expressed surprise when Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman & former CEO, remarked that the social network aspect of Plus was simply bait for it.

When using Google+ (the social networking component) the lack of in-stream ads means it is often forgotten that Google is an information and advertising company which seeks to feed its algorithms with data by any means it can.

Google has been concentrating on building integration internally but this can only go so far; it is, therefore, unsurprising that Google should want to extend its identity service across the "normal web" with the recently announced "Google+ Sign-In" - thus taking the next big step in challenging the other large social networks.

As Danny Sullivan writes over at Marketing Land, Google's move to roll this out isn't entirely altruistic.

As I have said on many occasions Google's social layer (and now, obviously, the Open Graph equivalent) allows Google to collate ever more data on our browsing habits, our likes, our shopping patterns etc. so that this can all be assimilated and provide us with the "enhanced experience" we were promised with the single privacy policy.

Google dangles the carrot of a free, integrated service encouraging us to fill the coffers with vast amounts of crowd-sourced data.

What does this amount to?

More accurate targeting so that we get:

  • more relevant ads so that we are more likely to react to them, and just as importantly
  • less irrelevant ads which reduces our frustration making us more likely to use Google's services as we feel we are getting a better deal.

Larry Page (current Google CEO) has also stated that "people" will be a first level search item and that we all need to grab a profile and play the game if we want to be included in the knowledge graph.

Nothing new under the sun

We could already sign in to third-party services with our Google account so some question why a new system is required with the added complexity (and potential privacy issues) of Google+ Sign-In. Most would probably agree but we now have a true social login to connect the normal web experience back to Plus and, hopefully, encourage users to push some of their actions and data back to the social network.

As Danny says in his post, promoting the new service as a "spam free" social alternative is disingenuous as the types of data collected and shared is on a par with Facebook - the obvious target here which has actually pared back the amount of shared data. An empty boast?

Google+ uses Circles, Facebook uses lists and groups but being able to restrict the visibility is not what really matters; the fact that finally extending its social identity outside of Plus (with more than +1s) is the important issue here - an Open Graph for Google.

Google initially promoted Plus with the tag line "sharing is broken" and the elevator pitch for Google+ Sign-in is simply continuing in the same vein - it has to or it will be tantamount to admitting that the initial model wasn't really anything new (it's just that the term "social circles" is already in popular vernacular so sounds better than groups or lists).

Compare and contrast

AlikeAs much as many hate to admit it, Facebook and Google are growing ever more alike but they are approaching the social/search singularity from different sides.

Facebook is driven by Zuckerberg's relentless passion for connecting everyone and, while this may be a noble goal, the unfortunate reality is that the company has had to become a business in order to support that goal; it's an "ends justify the means" approach which many don't appreciate, don't agree with and are unwilling to understand.

Google, however, is already a business that is now utilising social data to further those business goals even though it all began with a seemingly selfless intention to "fix search".

Facebook introduced Graph Search to build some additional structure and utility around its mass of data but it will take time to incorporate data from the Open Graph whilst concurrently perfecting the search mechanics. Google already has the advantage of having the world's best search engine so just needs to introduce that extra data - no simple feat but the search giant is currently in a much better position than Facebook.

But for one thing...


ProblemGoogle's big problem is that options to sign in with Facebook, Twitter and even commenting services such as Disqus, are everywhere; even if they haven't got an account most people know what these offerings are.

Knowledge of Google+ as a social network is still limited with many failing to see why they need yet another social network so a battle is being fought on different fronts. With a recent softening of attitude by much of the tech press, however, this might not be as much of an issue as first thought.

The intense competition most specifically with Facebook could, however, be of benefit to both companies with regards to the concerns of having such integrated services.

Facebook has long been criticised for the amount of data held within its walled garden while Google is facing censure from European regulators over its all-inclusive single privacy policy. With both companies seeming to converge on a common central point it could be argued that they are no longer in such a damaging position due to loss of monopoly.

Action and reaction

When I wrote "What is Google Plus?" last May I played devil's advocate by asking:

What if the social network is just a reactionary response to a company realising that it was becoming irrelevant in the social space and being left behind by others (e.g. Facebook) who could far better identify a user’s interests and behaviour due to holding their social graph.

Although this was partly said in jest the actions of the major web entities reflect that the web has changed and knowledge (or rather data) is power, now more than ever.

Just as Google intends for every Google user to eventually become a Google+ user so the varied data gatherers also intend for the whole web to eventually become the social web enabling more of our actions, habits and likes to be monitored, modelled and manipulated and modelled.

Both Google and Facebook are in it for the long game with only a fraction of their potential realised. Users will have their preferences and prejudices with regards to these social giants but the companies will be ultimately judged on how they use the data they collect.

Images by Google, @jbtaylor and antwerpenR

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