Will Google become the “Google” of Social?

In an earlier post, Jack mused on the Digital Marketer’s dilemma regarding Google: in a nutshell, superb ease of use (and price point!) vs. some increasingly shady questions regarding data ownership. In this post, I would like to apply similar questions to social media and social networking. So here’s our Question of the Day: Will Google become the “Google” of the Social world? The short answer is that Google is not there yet, but given certain trends, I’m quite sure that it will be. Let’s start with the trends and then bring it back to Google…

Historically, social networks have been online destinations. That is, one goes to www.facebook.com or www.myspace.com to operate in those social networks. This is true for thousands of special-interest websites and forums, too. An unfortunate result of these “social silos” is that one person has many identities (profiles) across the platforms and services. This arrangement impedes the sharing of information beyond a particular destination’s domain and challenges marketers to define meaningful ROI metrics within and across platforms.

The biggest social networks seem to be catching on that their relevance depends on breaking free of a destination-based model. Examples: Millions of Twitter subscribers use third party applications and hardly ever see the Twitter homepage, and Facebook has opened up its API to third-party applications like Pandora for music and Flickr for photos. Applications like these consolidate social access points. This, in turn, brings more content to the platforms while simultaneously promoting the sharing of information across them. By the way, there are precedents for this important trend. Can you imagine having to use a different email client like Outlook for each of your email accounts? Access to instant messaging platforms has been consolidated for years via applications like Trillian and Adium. And most recently, several applications originally designed for Twitter now access Facebook (Seesmic) and even LinkedIn (TweetDeck), too.

So let’s bring this back to Google and its relevance in Social. Google is already very far ahead of other platforms in terms of evolving to a “post-destination” social network. The strategy is to provide ubiquitous tools that sit quietly in the background so that you can “become social” on demand. Here’s a few examples:
  • Google Reader allows me to follow my contacts’ reading lists and share comments with them on articles of interest.
  • Although in its infancy, Sidewiki allows me to share comments on most web pages that I browse. 
  • Android brings location-aware and on-the-scene functionality into Google. As Google’s social platform matures, Android will be the killer, in my opinion.
  • The others: Let’s not forget about Google Talk, Google Voice, Gmail, Picassa, YouTube, Blogger, Checkout, and more...
Unlike core Facebook functionality, use of these tools does not require me to be present in a specific destination. And, while Facebook looks too big to fail, let’s also remember that Google has only just launched a true foray into Social. Its recent move to include feeds from Twitter does more than provide real-time content; Twitter data in Google subtly begins to turn users onto the idea that Google can be a social platform. Combine this with their recent release of Google Profiles, and I think we’ve just seen the beginning of Google’s eventual domination of Social. Here’s what will happen: the Profiles will slowly tie together Google’s disparate services into a social juggernaut that enables users to share thoughts and content immediately and directly from the content’s point of origin. The real question for Facebook is to see if it can “spread out” faster than Google can consolidate users to their Google Profiles. If not, Facebook will simply become consumed by Google, like so many services before it.

So there’s my case for Google’s inevitable ascendancy in the social world. And… it brings us back to the same questions raised by Jack. Should we fear the fact that one organization will own so much of our personal data and the gateways for marketers to access it? I’ll point out that it’s this kind of paradigm that will eventually lead us to meaningful exercises in measuring the lifetime value of a customer. It will further help us to find true champions of our brands. And, just like today, Google needs us, the marketers, as much as we need it. After all, what’s the value of all that data if Google can’t turn around and sell it right back to us?