Google is Social

Google’s lack of a clear social strategy has created a lot of fodder for those that follow tech. Google is overwhelmingly known as a search-centric company (for good reason) but the rise of Facebook in recent years has created speculation that their golden egg could indeed face stiff competition from Facebook (and its 650M user base) should they eat into search. Turning the tables, it’s been pretty clear Google needs to respond to the rise of “social”, leveraging their significant assets to ensure the field isnt a one-company show. At theSocial-Loco conference this past week in San Francisco, there was more revealed by Marissa Mayer of Google and others.

One of the panel moderators at Social-Loco cited a term coinage by noted Silicon Valley investor John Doerr that’s more useful to understanding what Google is up to than the concept “social” alone: SoLoMo, or social + location + mobile.

SoLoMo offers a reminder that data sets do not exist in a vacuum. Search expert and Web 2.0 Conference co-chair John Battelle has described several categories of data that are relevant to Google and its kin: There’s the social graph (contacts, friends), interest data (likes, tweets, recommendations), search data (queries, history), purchase data (what you buy, credit card numbers), location data (where you are, have been, and are going), and content data (behavior when engaged with content).

As for mobile, it’s more of a mode than a data type; it’s relevant because mobile data comes from customers who could be ready for commerce in the real world rather than the online one.

These categories can be combined and redefined, but together they represent the scope of information that’s meaningful to Google and its competitors. While Google may not yet have a social graph to match Facebook, it has other kinds of data, like geo-spatial data. Google Maps and Google Earth form the foundation of the social layer the company is building. Google Places, which relies on Maps, has five million reviews–the product of social connection–and that number is growing at a rate of a million per month.

In an interview following her presentation at Social-Loco, Mayer suggested that Google and Facebook are approaching the same problem from different angles. Asked whether she thought it was fair to say that Google’s approach to social is more geo-centric than Facebook’s, she said, “Maybe. I do think that having imagery, having the platform to provide the maps is a big investment. So we have a lot going with Google’s hardware and our cloud and the investments we make there. Being able to do something like Street View and developing our own ground-truth maps in various countries, that’s a big investment and a lot of smaller companies may not start there. They start somewhere more social.”

“We’re starting with this investment that we’ve made to really have this amazing mirror of the physical world available in digital form,” Mayer continued. “And now I think we’re building on top of that platform to think about what we can do on the social side. We’re all coming at the same problem, but based on investments to date you might start at a different place.”

Google’s platform is an advertising platform, one for which SoLoMo is increasingly relevant, but is also problematic: Social data and location data raise significant privacy concerns. Apple and Google were reminded of this recently when reports about iPhones storing location data and Android phones transmitting it had to be explained away.

To read full coverage of the conference from InformationWeek click HERE

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