A few weeks back, Jeremiah Owyang wrote a piece “Revealing Google’s Stealth Social Network Play.” In it he detailed the tactical benefits of a combined of Google Reader, Wave, and Sidewiki in a back-door strategy aimed at social networking. And more to the point, to realizing the advertising opportunities around social networking.
Google has been neither a leader nor a even a decent case study in social networking. It’s home-grown social network, Orkut, is popular elsewhere but not here. Open Social is still very real, but is largely invisible to the public. And when it comes to making use of the social graph, Google profiles are a distant cousin to Facebook and even Linkedin profiles. Google’s products seem to betray a distinct affinity for information over the more popular and user-friendly experiences that have resulted in the conversational turn in social networking: Facebook status and activity feeds, and twitter.
But with Google Wave, Jeremiah’s observation looks spot on. Wave not only facilitates a potentially game-changing departure from old-school email, but also supports the export and re-embedding of “wavelets” outside the Wave experience. These wavelets function as apps, and some of the early extensions featured have already begun to spark interest among developers who see Wave as an application platform turbo-charged by access to Google search, contacts/address book, and distributability. If successful, Google Wave is poised to serve as a platform for distributed social networking.
Brynn Evans writes today about Google social search, in Why There’s Nothing to Fear in Social Search. Social search may seem innocuous enough, and the video posted on the company’s blog contains a not-so-subtle pitch for Google profiles (the more you related sites and services you add, the better Google can serve you!), but the flip side of an improved search experience is of course advertising. Namely, social advertising.
Now, this is a nut that many have failed to crack, try as they have. But Facebook’s failed Beacon was a sign of things to come. There’s money in the feed. Feed-based advertising, which I liken to product placement in mainstream media, promises (for now) to leverage the rich social context and realtime conversational power of activity feeds and twitter. Now that twitter has offloaded its advertising problem to Microsoft’s Bing and Google, it can worry about making twitter a richer experience, while delegating advertising to the search engines. But reconstructing the conversation, as Adina Levin notes in her post Search the conversation, and as many of the semantic, sentiment, and influence relevance companies I’ve spoken with will attest, is all the more difficult the shorter the message and the thinner the relationship.
Which is possibly where Wave might create more than a ripple for Google’s alogorithmagicians and data miners. Google has lacked access to the information that can be extracted from mined social actions. Wavelets, embedded on end-user and brand blogs, sites, and elsewhere (eg phones, participating social networks), could be used to create an index of social activity. For wave interactions are captured by Google (which hosts the original wavelet and sees all interactions that occur on it).
A social action index built on the back end of Wave could be combined with search indexes of conversational messages from twitter (and possibly other activity feeds: Myspace, Facebook?). Add to those, indexing of blog comments and sidewiki, Google reader subscriptions and its comments, likes, and shares, plus the rich social graph information provided by Google contacts, and you have what looks to me like a distributed, decentralized, gold-mine of search queries, documents, conversations, relationships, and activities. All built on an advertising platform.
If Google could auction off ads in realtime, for printing to the page around conversations, filtered and qualified by social interaction data and constrained perhaps by relationships, it could conceivably personalize targeted advertising and also push a new class of social sales and offers to the user’s social graph. That is, reaching friends through those most trusted and respected for their influence in their areas of expertise.
The grail of advertising is not one to one relationships with customers, but access through the right person to a whole network of friends. In or around their own words and at the time most likely to get attention. Realtime is solving the attention problem by capturing it when it’s being paid. But it takes a company with a lot of social data to connect the dots and provide social relevance. Google is looking a lot smarter of late.