On July 1st Google released it’s 4th social network project. After the failures of Orkut, Google Wave and Google Buzz, Google presented the new promising social platform – Google+.
During the last few days, hundreds of articles describing Google+ were published. I won’t describe here the functionality of the new social network, since I haven’t experienced it personally. All my knowledge about it derives from the demo available on the Google site and the reviews mentioned above.
Instead, I’ll discuss here the motivation behind Google’s decision to significantly enter the social network world, whatever it costs.
Google is still the biggest search engine in the world
Let’s start with a reminder – the main Google service is it’s web search, not social network. It is impossible to deny that Google has a great search engine. Still, in order to keep the title of “King of Searches”, Google must strengthen a number of weaknesses.
One of the largest limitations Google search has is related to the image search. Google completely depends on the description provided by the HTML developer and the general context of the page containing the image. We are often looking for images of details or places that aren’t significant enough to include them in the description of the image.
For example, a request for a common tortoise in … river, in most cases won’t lead to the appropriate result.
Not only the images search has weaknesses. Google does not response well to requests like “I want to watch a comedy in LA next Saturday”. You are welcome to try to get an answer to this question. Here are some queries that don’t work well: “Los Angeles showtime comedy July 9″ “Where can I watch comedy in Los Angeles on July 9?”, “Movie theaters Los Angeles comedy July 9″ and more. After almost an hour of searching, I’ve found a partial answer and I am a search-engines power user. The fact that I have found the answer indicates that Google should do it for me too.
Another type of question is a personal question: “What good blues music is being released this year?”. This year’s blues releases can be found, but what about the word “good”? How can Google find music that
is good in my opinion?
Is it too personal? Let’s try this one, even more practical: “Where can I find a beach in New York with starfish?” You’ve guessed right – no answer.
I’m sure Google is aware of those problems. So, why is Google so decisive to get in to the social networking arena, instead of resolving the above problems?
We shall look for an answer of the term “Social search”.
How social search helps here?
The social search is based on the input about the content supplied by real users. Google understands the importance of social search. At the end of March 2011, the +1 utility has been released, which is one of the significant moves towards social search that Google is planning. It allows you to tell Google that the site offered in the search result indeed answers your question. This input helps Google to improve the search results for your friends queries. It is called “social signaling”.
What about Facebook and social search? Let’s deal a little bit with numbers. Each hour, Facebook users upload over 7.5M photos, half of them are tagged. As statistics shows, 65 billion images are uploaded to Facebook each year and tagging of images is widespread. There are also comments that can be useful. So, finding the tortoise in … river is equivalent to finding one of over 500M Facebook users that was in … river and took a photo of the tortoise. I bet there is such.
There are 3M links posted per hour. It means that Facebook has possibility to index over 25 billion pages in a year, all of them posted by known users. More than 2.5M web sites already have integrated with Facebook. 10,000 new sites integrate daily.
The amount of useful data for searching the web is huge. Facebook database can provide helpful information about the good blues music, since I have friends in Facebook with similar taste to mine and they have such friends too, and so on. So there is an informal group of the blues lovers with the similar taste in Facebook, and someone there has published on his wall information about a new blues album or a song that he liked. There is a fair chance that I’ll like it too.
Same with starfish. How many people share their experiences on Facebook? Over 4.5M wall posts per hour, over 5M status updates per hour, over 30M comments per hour… I can imagine that someone posted a photo of a beautiful starfish found on … beach. Even if the starfish isn’t tagged on the photo, someone certainly commented: “Wow, it is a wonderful starfish!”.
Almost all movies have their pages in Facebook. Those pages are having the information or are connected to other websites that have the information about showtimes. It seems that we have everything needed for finding a good comedy in one of the LA movie theaters.
If you don’t like to spend your time in movie theaters, you should know that in 2010, more than 3.5M events were created each month. All events were described by the publisher, there is a list of attendees, people posted comments, before and after the event. It seems enough information to find what to do tonight, without going to Google.
The point is that Facebook already collected enormous amount of quality information. Behind each piece of data you can find a real person, well profiled by his Facebook activity, from his personal interests, through his personal taste, up to places where he hangs out, reported by using the sign in application from user’s mobile phone.
It is the main reason why Google pushes so hard to converge as many users as possible to their Google+.
They need the information that Facebook already has.
On the other hand, Facebook user can’t even search his own wall posts. This contrast should make Google nervous. What will happen when Facebook overcomes technical barriers of understanding the available data? Will the new search engine, provided by Facebook, conquer the world?
And what about the money?
At the end of the day. all information is translated into money. In 2010, Facebook had an estimated 1.86 billion dollars income, growth of 240%, while Google’s revenues were over 28 billion dollars from the advertisement only, growth of 23% from 2010. The estimation of the online advertisement market in 2011, in US only, is 50 billion dollars.
A succesful advertising platform must please both the advertisers and the consumers. In order to serve the appropriate ad and create ROI for the advertisers and a good buy to the consumer, they need information.
A lot of comparing between GoogelAds and Facebook ads has been done lately and Facebook is massively praised for giving great results. It makes reasons for Google investment in the social network project clear.