Some of the recent acquisitions and moves made by Google have been interesting to say the least. With them losing ground to Facebook in the social stakes, they have been quietly getting their ducks in a row through an acquisition strategy. One fifth of Google’s acquisions in 2010 were related to social.
The majority of Google’s recent buys have concentrated largely on mobile, which seems to be where they feel they can steal the win. So you think Google doesn’t stand a chance at Social?
Google already have the technology, acquisitions and products, which combined will inevitably improve core search, whilst growing a social network platform. Many of Google’s products already have a social element to them, and if they don’t they are actively being developed.
So what are the social features within Google’s core products at the minute?
How many of Google’s existing products require you to sign in? Pretty much every one of them. Google profile’s (you can find your own by visiting http://www.google.com/profiles/me) are basically the first building block of Google’s social strategy. Pretty much everything you do on all Google properties, is associated in some way with a profile.
So how have they managed to encourage users to sign up, grab a profile, and fill it in? By using and exerting force through organic search engine results. Who doesn’t want to rank in Google for their own name? Right?
Google Maps is a massive sleeping tiger. Over the years it has grown from a simple application which just gives directions, to one which offers satellite navigation, 3D maps, Street view and now a social layer through Latitude. Google places is also now integrated in maps, which along with Google Hotpot, mimicking the social reviews which they couldn’t manage to prise away from Yelp’s fingers.
Yelp have missed out, with Google’s growing presence with Android and Maps, after they’ve been milked dry for a couple of years – they are simply going to be pushed out of the ring. On the 27th of October 2010, Google changed everything for any small business which operates in a local area. If you service a particular area anywhere in the world, and perform a
[service] in [placename]
type of search, traditional search engine optimisation has gone out the window. It’s no accident that Google have made a big deal of local search, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the algorithm which Google currently uses to determine whether you appear here, forces business owners to get listed in local, and to start getting reviews. Give us reviews, or we’ll promote competitors above you.
I’ve written before on how businesses can promote themselves on a local level. Citations i.e. social recommendations are the new backlink.
How do Google users write reviews? That’s right – using their Google profile. Congratulations Google user – you’ve now just connected yourself with a business or website that you have a relationship with. Once again, Google has used its existing dominance in driving business to publishers websites to further improve the data they collect.
Google local is all about giving them data that they don’t have to get from third parties, e.g. Yelp et al and they will build out and improve a social algorithm. As I’ve hinted in the linked article, due to Google not yet having the data from reviews themselves, they are simply using third parties as trusted sources for this data. Once they’ve built out their own product, they can toss the likes of Yelp to the corner of the room like a used ragdoll.
The launch of checkins on Google Latitude, integrating with data which Google already has within Google Places has the potential to become a Foursquare killer without much effort. How long before we see the check-in feature of Latitude driving reviews in Google places? You visit a place, you check-in, you leave – your mobile phone prompts you for a review, and so the dots begin to join.
This is why Groupon would have made a brilliant acquisition for GOOG – not just because it is profitable, but because it fits perfectly into their location based strategy to learn about businesses.
Latitude is a local product, designed to mine data about Google users, and local places. Couldn’t that be used to gain insight and data on where you shop, what you do, and what advertising is more targeted to you personally? You bet.
Android users have already surpassed that of the iPhone, becoming the dominant platform in the smartphone space according to Analyst firm Canalys. As the application space grows in maturity for Android, this is only likely to grow further. Google aren’t however sitting on their laurels in improving the mobile application marketplace.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Google is planning to hire “dozens” of software engineers, product managers, user-interface experts and “others who have ideas for mobile apps,” and it’s apparently already shifted some of its current employees to work in this new “app labs” project.
Growing Android is important to Google because mobile is the platform from which all battles will be fought in the future. How many of the applications already listed have a mobile element to them? All of them. Oh yeah, did I mention that you need a Google profile to even get started with an Android phone? What data have you already shared with Google on that signup process? Name? Age? Date of birth? All of it equals a more targetted advertising platform, and a database which makes the rollout of a social platform across Google properties a piece of cake.
Social Content – Reader, Buzz
What lies at the center of almost every social network is the sharing of content. Enter, Google Buzz. Buzz is already integrated into Google Reader, the mobile version of Gmail, and now Google maps through Latitude. That gives the ability to post Buzz about a particular area, or content / links in a locality. Local relevance for links, feeding back into Google’s local search algorithm. Genius. Angstro is another acquisition which hints at the importance Google is placing on content in local areas.
Google reader allows you to follow other Google profiles, based on the content they are sharing via Google Reader, and every day, millions of Google reader users share content with each other. This is exactly the same concept as Twitter, or Facebook albeit with a smaller user base and a different setting. Softly softly, catchy monkey.
Aardvark facilitates the curation of content and the crowdsourcing of knowledge. Learning about the answers to common problems in a social way, that can be rolled out on a mobile platform makes complete sense for a company that relies on providing the answers to queries. Facebook Answers anyone? Incidently, Aardvark mobile is not yet available for Android but my guess is watch this space.
The recent acquisition of Fflick not only ties in with YouTube strongly, but improves and builds out Google’s sentiment analysis. This could be used for any manner of products, including Google Buzz and Hotpot. At the heart of it, it allows the search giant to more closely understand the content being shared within their own numerous social platforms.
For use on their Android platform, Google have picked up a number of social gaming acquisitions in the past year. Social Deck and JamBool will undoubtedly drive the platform forward, and indeed the number of ways in which you are connected socially with others across Google properties. Are Google using game theory to incentivise users on Hotpot and other properties? You bet they are. This is where the acquisition of gaming companies with social experience makes sense.
So what’s next?
So where do I think Google are going to move next? Schmidt has already confirmed that Google +1 / Google Me is ‘not a product’, but a social layer across all Google products, so all that really needs to happen is the aggregation of all the above under one roof.
The activity you are already engaged in across Google products is likely to be brought together to build up a profile about YOU. You can already see your Google social circle by logging into your Google profile. That’s a scary amount of data contained from relatively trivial connections in some cases.
It’s already here, like it or not, you are already a part of Google’s social network and strategy.