Google's pivot from search to social technologies occurred last week and my early impressions of their new service Google+ are very positive, particularly around their efforts on allowing you to group your contacts. The giant global advertising company have many years experience analyzing your search and email history, and often display eerily accurate recommendations contextually based on your past online activities and threads. Google's http cookies probably transmit more about you than you realize - I can be reading a foreign newspaper and see advertising content based on my past search activities and of course Youtube (itself the second largest search engine by use in the world) video has pop up ads that make you realize you are being skillfully tracked.
Google's global strength in the eyeball tracking world looks particularly powerful In a week where Zynga filed to ipo for an absurd one billion $US based on usage of their free games, which are currently dependent on the Facebook platform and hoping for continuing revenue from the small subset of people who feel the need to spend real money on virtual Zynga currency in order to buy digital stuff while playing.
For Google the challenge is now principally around allowing users to more efficiently filter their contacts and topics. We are in an era where the sheer volume of information available to us is overwhelming unless we have the ability to organize it by importance, creating more efficient use of our time. I've had a steady flow of email all week notifying me I was being added to other people's instances of G+, but haven't had any time to set up 'circles' or put people in the relevant buckets. Where setting up credible enterprise collaboration environments requires orchestration and permissions filters to be put in place against relevant governance by dedicated resources, our multiple online social spaces in this overcrowded era are much more like places we are forced to go and visit if we want to meet particular people.
The closest we've got to nightclub velvet rope exclusivity has been the by-invite model Google used for gMail and now Google+, but the vast majority of the digital watering holes some of us frequent are about as exclusive and intimate as an airport. Outside of internet enthusiasts, the uptake of free services like Facebook and particularly Twitter has been rather like a small town grille and bar - that's pretty much where everyone hangs out if you want to find the local folks and where the gossip is when visiting main street. I've previously compared Facebook in 2011 to a never ending wedding reception where everyone is jammed into the same room and overhearing each other's conversations.
The challenge we have in this era is the sheer volume of online places we can attend, the number of concurrent relationships we have with the same people in these socially graphed places and the investment of time needed to curate these connections to keep them relevant, up to date and of course of value. Facebook get kudos as the first generation of successful social graphing at true global scale - the challenge now as individuals are the choices we make as more and more sophisticated social networking services spring up.
Google have a huge advantage in their search mapping of the entire web, ownership of YouTube video, and the Android mobile platform - their overall global internet infrastructure to support content cannot be underestimated. Now that the social web is such a heavily populated place the challenge of differentiating and filtering all your connections and content is going to define your primary trusted place you go online.
In an entertaining piece 'Wizards of Bullshit: How Forbes turned $6.5 million into $20 billion' David Heinemeier Hansson of 37 Signals tears to shreds the credibility of Facebook Ceo Zuckerberg's supposed financial value, and you don't have to Google very far before you find evidence of Facebook investors aiming to take advantage of the fully inflated bubble.
The convergence of Groupon style daily offers, frequent flyer miles and store shopper identification 'rewards' cards will make the consumer social web of the future a bargain basement as well as a place to congregate with friends, and the players with the most heft wins those sorts of battles. It has never been easier to publish our opinions and thoughts, however long or short they are. Bum information is an increasing problem online, and it can be very hard to filter for accuracy or relevance, as evidenced by all those content farm sites that appear in Google searches.
At best Google's entrance into the social graph market will bring more order, structure and findability to our lives. At worse the distopean world described in Evgeny Morozov's 'The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom' just connected a few more dots, as dismally experience by the Belarusian 'Social Media' clapping protestors as they were tracked and led away to jail this weekend.
Overall though greater competition at scale in the social graph market has to be a good thing for consumers.