Report: Google To Leverage Other Social Networks To Make Itself More Social

The unconfirmed “Google Me” appears not to be a product per se rather a placeholder for a broader social strategy. According to reports coming out of Google Zeitgeist (Danny’s there so he can expand on this) Google is going to integrate a “social layer” into more and more of its products over time. According to Reuters:

Chief Executive Eric Schmidt told reporters on Tuesday the Internet search leader intends to work in “layers” of social networking to its sites, rather than unveil a flashy product. To propel that effort, he intends to sustain its pace of acquisitions.

“We’re trying to take Google’s core products and add a social component,” Schmidt told a select group of reporters at Zeitgeist, a gathering of business partners and high-profile industry figures.

A report in the Wall Street Journal this morning offers a slightly different picture of Google’s strategy, which apparently seeks to leverage other social networks (and Facebook in particular) to make search more social:

Speaking Tuesday at the Google Zeitgeist conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., Mr. Schmidt said Google hoped to at least get access to Facebook users’ contact lists so that people can grow their social network on Google. He said, without elaborating, that Google’s products would incorporate more social-networking elements later this year.

“The best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Failing that, there are other ways to get that information.” He declined to be specific . . .

In its new service, Google will attempt to allow users on the Google site to access information they created on many other sites including Twitter and Yahoo Inc.’s Flickr, the photo-sharing service, according to people familiar with the matter . . .

Mr. Schmidt said that by asking users to give Google the same type of information they give to Facebook, Google also could improve each user’s Web-search experience . . .

Social gaming figures in here somewhere as well. However it’s not clear what the user experience — or experiences plural — will look like. Google already has an embryonic version of “social search,” based on public and non-public connections in what it defines as your “social circle”:
Google could in fact create a better search experience by personalizing results via an expanded definition of “social circles.” However there are also potential problems and challenges:
  • Privacy and the cautionary tale of Buzz (a product that is effectively dead because of the botched launch)
  • People may be happy with “social” results in some contexts and not in others; can I selectively turn it on/off or is it an “all or nothing” proposition?
  • My social circle may be too big or unwieldy to really make search more relevant; 300 Facebook (or LinkedIn) connections are going to add potential chaos and confusion, not relevance, to search results (although I’m sure Google has thought through this)

Google does a much better job with privacy than it generally gets credit for. However the company has acquired a “big brother” association in some quarters and passive or involuntary “socialization” of search results may “creep people out.”

To cover itself and do the best job of educating users Google should get people to explicitly opt-in to an expanded social search, which is not the case today. It would also need to explicitly identify the benefits of participating as part of that process. But any system that asks people to opt-in is going to have less participation than one that asks people to opt-out.

I’m speculating about all of this and could be totally wrong about how Google Me/social search will look and operate. But it’s going to be interesting. There’s a big bet that Google is making as it seeks to adapt to a new, more social internet and the challenge of Facebook.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Facebook | Google: Critics | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Outside US | Google: Social Search

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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