Google’s Social Product … When?

People often seem to overlook the fact that Google are already a company that completely embraces social media.  They already own a number of social networking websites:

  • Orkut
  • Buzz
  • Picassa
  • Blogspot

And a few of their products also have a social layer embedded in them:

  • Google Maps (Latitude)
  • Google Places (Hot Pot)
  • Google Search (Blogs / Realtime(Twitter)

Also, a big part of Google’s search algorithm is based on user generated feedback – Paid Search adverts are explicitly rewarded with a higher quality score and a lower CPC based on metrics that approximate user satisfaction.  Google social search has been around for a while in the natural search results and recently had a bit of a face lift and some small changes to its functionality.

Beyond the explicit social feedback metrics, there are also many observable phenomenon that point to social media being very important in Google’s ranking algorithm – users want information that is:

  • Relevant
  • Valid
  • Up To Date
  • Trustworthy

Relevance, Trust and validity are all subjective and benefit from an understanding of the specifics of the individual.  Rankings that take these into account are more compelling to the user, and ultimately more useful.

When you think about the amount of data that Google can collect about an individual across their different products, it is pretty frightening.  Imagine a typical day.

Switch on your computer, log into Google – Google knows where you are in the world based on your IP address.  Log into GMail, Google scans the subject of your emails and serves up relevant results.

You return to the search engine, and search for National Rail to check train times because no-one uses the address bar or bookmarks anymore.  Google tracks your click off the search results and will then picks up your cookie with the DoubleClick advert pixel that gets fired when you land on the national rail website.

When you get to work you use the machine there which does not have the same cookie, and has no got the shared history – however, when you log into GMail at work, you get picked up again.  Google now knows that you are the same person on two machines in two cities, and this information can then be used to serve up geographic ads for either location.

According to MetricMail, Google Analytics is used on around 50% of the top 1,000,000 websites.  And while Google might not share data between companies, it will share it internally.  The search team will begin to get a very clear picture of your online life – and because 90% of us use Google for search, the bits where you leave Google’s radar and visit something like Facebook are relatively short, because you will get picked up again when you return to search for your next website.

The point is, that Google can track enormous amounts of data beyond just their search results, and increasingly they are able to leverage this data in order to create profiles of groups of people, and then forecast future behaviour or tastes in order to provide better targeted advertising in the future.

From one point of view, the question is whether Google actually need to add a layer of social awareness above their basic search information, however by adding that deeper layer of insight into behaviour and interests their ability to predict intent will be much more profound.  Imagine Google knowing the search behaviour of your mum, and being able to subtly provide you with insight into what she wants for her birthday or Christmas.

As Eric Schmidt said:

With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches. We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.


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