Saturday, 2 March 2013

Forget social networks, get ready for the social web!

Google+ is often compared to Facebook. It is also treated by many as just another social network. Well, it is not like Facebook and it is not just another social network. It can be, however, the beginning of the social internet.

It is not about Google+ features, but about the implications that Google+ has beyond the social network platform as we know it.

Social network platform could be defined as an online destination, a service to which users 'go to' usually by logging in. If YOU want to interact with ME then we both log in and view, share, post, comment, and like each other's content. Purely looking at interaction between the users within Google+ platform, on the surface, the differences between Google+ and Facebook are minor. Both offer wall-posting capabilities, with the opportunity to like, share, and comment. You could ask why use Google+ if you already keep connected to your friends on Facebook? How much more connected can you be or want to be, right? The thing is that Google+ reaches far beyond the social network itself. It allows you to have a social experience regardless of what you do on the web, whether it's search, email, creating documents, or collaborating with your co-workers via Google Drive.

Think of it this way. Everything that you do on the internet, browse or whatever, is not affected by your activity on Facebook, in any way. You can feed it back to Facebook, so that your friends can see it, but it's very much a one way street. Your decisions are not affected by any content or activity that was published on Facebook simply because Facebook has no means of channeling that information. What happens on Facebook, stays on Facebook. 

Google on the other hand, is Web. And if you add a social layer to Web, then you've created Social Web. 

Google+ is a truly unified experience. If I get social notifications whether I'm on email, watching YouTube, or browsing internet, then it's a continuous social experience. I don't have to log in to the social network, social network reaches out to me, for example, through the +1 function or ability to hang out with my friends from within YouTube. Because of this two way communication, social interaction has never been so instant before.

In addition the audience on Google+ is much more public and not only limited strictly to people I know. This opens up opportunity to really grow your network.

If you ask me about Facebook graph search now, I'll say no biggy. Why? Because it is still limited only to Facebook platform. Yes, it might be great to find a dentist who's recommended by my friends, but let's be honest the sample size in such case is very small especially considering that only a percentage of that sample actually shares or recommends pages/sites. And ultimately, where do I end up looking up the dentist info? On Google search.

Being suggested something is not the same as having a choice. With Google, I can not only choose from the list of all dentists in the area, but can also see if any of my friends +1'd it, as well as read reviews gathered from a much wider audience. Besides, would it be really that hard for Google to incorporate their search capabilities into Google+? Does Google even need to do that when social presence on Google+ already has an impact on Google search?

Google+ captures huge amount of data and that data affects the search results. The implications of that trend for marketers is beyond huge. The key thing to understand is that you are not able to predict the search anymore, not by applying the standard SEO practices, as the search results will become personal. All you can do is grow your social presence. This excellent SocialMediaExaminer podcast by +Michael Stelzner talks in detail about those implications.

Such a merger of Search and Social is just the beginning of the entirely social Web. Unless Facebook builds 'the Web' within Facebook with Search and other capabilities, as +Lee Odden predicts, by for example teaming up with Microsoft, Google has got it all for now. Considering the number of Google products that we use, the possibilities of integrating social experience within those products are endless.

It is therefore simply hard to think of Google+ as a standalone social platform, but Facebook is very much that at the moment. Google is like a solar system with all of their products integrated by the social experience that Google+ provides. But Facebook is separate from that and just a lonely planet at the moment.