Where can Google take social?

# whereThere has been a recent flood of posts regarding how Google is going to make its social strategy work and the general thread seems to be concentrating on the Google v Facebook aspect.

I have said before that Google and Facebook are more alike than we normally think, the parallels between their offerings are considerable even if Facebook has them gathered in one place, but this doesn't mean the two are - or should be - in direct competition.

It's undeniable that Facebook could have a good stab at launching an advertising service outside of its own boundaries with the wealth of Likes data they have collected but would they really want to? As Jesse Stay says "Google is not Facebook and vice versa"

Facebook's success is in its walled garden approach. By locking you in they ensure they control the data and by then, providing a multitude of distractions like social gaming, keeping you there.

It's like shopping: a shop will periodically move items about between shelves so that you are forced to browse for what you want meaning that you have to walk past other stuff to get to it, consequently you are more likely to impulse buy things that you would not have previously considered.

Jesse suggests that Google should do more to partner with social networks, including Facebook, to integrate the experience but I cannot envisage the latter wanting any of this. Facebook doesn't want its content indexed and for you to go right to what you need, it wants you to "step in to the store" and browse a while hoping that you may do more while you are there.

As I discussed previously, Google must accept the fact that no-one will come in and beat Facebook at its own game. Facebook OWNS social, period!

Me v Us

Mike Melanson talks about Google's +1 and asks "what's in it for me?" He argues that sharing is a matter of "Me" versus the greater good and that using +1 to like search results doesn't return him any direct value. So, let's have a look at what +1 actually offers - currently I feel there are the following benefits:

  • +1 assists sites with rankings, shows popularity just like Facebook Likes
  • +1 assists Google by providing preference data to increase advertising relevance
  • as it stands +1 becomes a social bookmarking service of sorts

Beyond the "joy of sharing" +1 provides a basic bookmarking service that sits within our google profile when the +1 tab is enabled - thus providing some "Me" value. Additional desired functionality would also include search and categorization.

If used sensibly we can employ it to retain links to things we find interesting or useful and from which we feel our social circle may derive benefit.

Why Google?

Jesse and Mike both state that when sharing a link they will generally do so via Facebook or Twitter why would they use +1? One reason could be that social bookmarking element. It is something you can't easily get with the others. You could, for example, get a list of your tweets which contain links via the API but it would not be a quick, easy process for the average user.

But this doesn't go far enough.

I agree with others when they say there needs to be a more social aspect to Google +1s including, as I see it:

  • Buzz integration as a minimum, ideally share to at least Twitter as well
  • options for private v public: all +1's will affect page rank but do we want to share them all?
  • the +1 tab within Google Profiles should show comments via buzz - we could choose to view a simple list or expanded option to view this discussion

As mentioned, clicking +1 for any site currently provides very little at face value and users will be expecting some form of social interaction as with Facebook Likes but the widely accepted notion of 'social' does not naturally dove-tail into Google's world. The problem with Google is that, traditionally, it is a stepping stone NOT a destination. This must be rectified.

You Tube is a destination but only because it exists outside the normal Google business model. It was purchased and left to run as a semi-autonomous entity. But how many people actually care that it is owned by Google? How many actually don't even know that it is owned by Google?

As Robert Scoble says, Google does not understand that 'social' is about wasting time; instead it is task oriented, it is about getting things done - get the information you need in order to do something else. This is inherent in search and always will be unless it is completely redesigned (which probably isn't going to happen). We go to Google to search, to find other things; it is not a content site - it is not an end point.

If Google wants to become 'sticky' it needs something else, a destination which gives compelling reasons for use to stay. It has to be by building on Profiles - there is nothing else suitable.

Profiles, however, have a long way to go to become a desirable destination; they are currently a reference point for others and need a hook, something to ensnare us and keep us on site; something we as the profile holder can use.

When social layers were first announced I envisioned that they would combine our actions across Google's various services - perhaps Profiles need an aggregated timeline which includes our Buzz stream, what our friends have been up to on Picasa, our You Tube subscriptions etc. Google Buzz originally tried to populate itself with our email contacts (the cause of the original privacy outcry) so why not have an option to include emails from chosen contacts fed in to the timeline (just a thought).

Google Profiles should have a public and private view - the private being our destination; our reason for visiting and sticking around.

Until, Google finds a mainstream, standalone destination it will only be a social bit-part player.

Image by Mike Brown