Googles Social Search Challenge

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-04-02 Print this article Print


The value to users of social features like +1 comes from being able to see what friends have thought about things, but to leverage that value of friends' "likes," Google needs to have a critical mass of people already in its network, which it largely lacks today, Reynolds explained.

The fact is that most people want to maintain their groups of friends on one network, and that tends to be Facebook.

"Since Google doesn't 'own' the dominant social network, it needs to get people to opt in to a Google-run version of one (in this case, the Google Profiles)," Reynolds said. "People may wonder why they would bother to go through the signup process and maintain settings and so forth on another system only to be able to get a probably minor enhancement to their search experience."

Google didn't throw out this "me too" feature as an altruistic feature. It's following Facebook's money trail, as Likes helped the company earn $1.86 billion in ads last year.

Google has said in early testing that the +1 recommendations boosted the rates at which people clicked on the ads. As Search Engine Land noted, Google owns paid search advertising so the +1 annotations have the potential to boost AdWords campaigns.

Moreover, Google will soon extend the +1 button to external Websites, just as Facebook did with the Like button.

It's unclear what financial return Google will get by combining the Web's biggest third-party ad network-AdSense-with recommendations.

If the tens of millions of Profiles users are generating buttons for other Profiles users to click on, Google stands to make some money. Google might not have the social network, but it certainly has the ad networks to support whatever it does in search.

Count IDC's Reynolds as a believer in Google's ability to make money from +1.

"I do think the commercial value of +1 is significant, and it could be made into an attractive program for advertisers, an area where Google has an opportunity to potentially out-innovate Facebook," Reynolds said.

"However, they have to solve their social chicken and egg problem in order to have +1 make a difference."

That means somehow, some way getting more users to join Google Profiles to start sharing via +1. That's a challenge, since most people go to Google to search for information and go to Facebook to share information. GigaOm offers the best analysis of this dichotomy.


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