Famously geeky Google has a spotty record when it comes to social media. The buzz over Google Buzz proved short-lived, while Google botched earlier social efforts, such as driving Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley from the company after acquiring Dodgeball. Even its latest social play, adding check-in functionality and “guru” badges to Latitude, smacks a bit of desperation. But what’s clear is Google’s taking a craftier overall approach to social that doesn’t challenge the hegemony of Facebook directly, but instead fights on ground that Google knows well: deploying consumer data.
Google is not launching a social network this week at South by Southwest Interactive, as rumored. It is, however, planning to marry its search engine, ad network and location-based mapping technology to create a highly communicative, personalized consumer network that supersedes the parameters of what we now call social media. Google wants connections, but not of the Facebook ilk; it wants to become the wifi of consumer online behavior, integrating social network interactivity with search, shopping and information management. Google’s search engine provides a circular train ride from information query to shopping to sharing on social networks. All Google has to do is connect the dots. That’s something Facebook can’t touch — at least not yet.
Currently consumer data from searches are anonymous. Enhanced location-based services, such as daily shopping deals and opt-in location and theme-based alerts from multiple social networks might be tied to a mobile subscriber service that compiles information and serves ads from Google’s own platform.
“Further in the future, what could we do with mobile technology using a lot of the information that’s already there?” Google’s Marissa Mayer said at a conference last Friday. “How can technology and that power of ‘here’ help make things smoother? How can we make smartphones even smarter in the future?”
Mayer spoke of a near-future in which smartphones might communicate across networks to guide consumers through their day, updating flight information, sending alerts about traffic and providing reviews of whichever restaurant they might be standing in. Most of these elements exist across various services at present. Google’s future vision will close the circle between location-based services, retail, e-commerce, search and personal information, making Google the DNA of the bulk of interactive data.
Google’s reach towards mobile supremacy is not a march towards traditional social media dominance. Google is expanding the definition of social by laying the groundwork for a type of social networking that has very little to do with profiles and everything to do with daily life management. Expanding the concept of social to include everything from search to real-time shopping means that Google’s ads will be incredibly well-targeted as they can be served based on real-time location, at a point of purchase, driven by search. The plethora of potential virtual tools for consumers will be more than enough to seduce users to surrender personal info, regardless of what becomes of the various Do Not Track movements and potentially restrictive HTML5 standards in 2014.
Google has a long ways to go in social. It will probably still stumble when it comes to making consumer-oriented social products because social isn’t the same as search. But by focusing on data mining, Google might just have found its opening. While Facebook ponders growth strategy and platform communication, Google is making sure that whatever we do online or off, we’ll view it through Google-tinted lenses.