While Google was making Skynet cars, invading people’s televisions, and investing in a massive wind energy pipeline, Facebook and Microsoft were plotting its eventual demise. If the partnership in social search between Microsoft and Facebook taught us anything, it was that the search engine has a whole lot of untapped potential that we are only now seeing the tip of. Bringing the worlds of social networking and web search closer together in a way that fundamentally changes the functionality and usefulness of both platforms was a bold move by the two companies (MicroBook? BingFace? MicroFace?), and it will shake things up regardless of its actual success. Google, on the hand, who always has been safe in the knowledge that its search engine was vastly superior to the competition, is at a critical crossroads. Can they be content with sticking to their guns and improving on their vanilla search engine, confident in its simplicity and superiority, or is Facebook-Bing too much of a threat for them to be sitting on their haunches and developing Skynet cars?
Keep in mind that Google is no stranger to adventures in the social search world. Orkut, Wave, Buzz, OpenSocial and FriendConnect are all Google social networking and social integration products that have failed or are failing since release. Orkut was supposed to compete with Facebook, Buzz was supposed to be a social extension of Gmail, Wave was supposed to revolutionize social collaboration, and FriendConnect was a way to “socialize” your website or blog. None of these bore any meaningful fruit, and Google has yet to introduce a successful social media implementation that would have any meaningful effect on Facebook’s domination of the social scene.
That all started to change with the addition of Twitter results to the “Updates” section of search. All of a sudden, Google became a versatile tool with which you could surf the ever-changing tide of the real-time social stream of Twitter updates. It was a start, and it had potential to become a greater tool. Since that heady time, though, nothing much has happened to the Twitter integration other than a nifty timeline. CEO Eric Schmidt has made some announcements about a planned social layer to Google searches, but details have been scarce and not forthcoming. In this week’s quarterly earnings call, Schmidt seemed pretty blasé about the whole social integration push. He mentioned that there would be more social integration in Google searches eventually, but wouldn’t put forth any details. He did mention that there would be a specific effort to try and integrate data from other networks into Google searches. While he may not be developing a Facebook competition, he does believe that the data would certainly be useful.
This is where you see the stark contrast between Bing (along with Facebook) and Google, and how they will eventually evolve into two totally different beasts. Throughout the Bing-Facebook announcement earlier this week, there was a vibe of partnership, teamwork and even camaraderie. We got the distinct feeling that these two companies respected each other’s businesses and expertise, and wanted to create a better overall experience using the tools that both companies could bring to the table. This wasn’t just about data sharing; it was about a real collaborative effort that involved major changes on both sides of the table.
All Google wants is access to data. They are confident enough in their algorithm and business model to the point where they don’t need to create an alliance with a company to profit from it. Google just needs their data. In fact, Schmidt also discussed at the earnings call that he believes everyone should open up their data to Google (and other engines).
"There’s always a concern that large private collections of data are not available to search engines…. We’ve taken a position, both in a religious and in a business perspective, that the world is better off if you take the information that you’re assembling and make it accessible."
If I could sum up their philosophy in a nutshell, I would say that Google believes that your social presence online can be algorithmically summed up by the information you’re searching for. The more information made available to the search engine, the more accurate your Google social footprint will be. A great example of this philosophy in action is the ad campaign called Search Stories. The first of these was a moving narrative of an international love story, where the protagonist learns a language to meet a girl, marries the girl, and has a child. All of the plot points are shown as Google searches. While it seemed like just a clever marketing trick at the time, this really represents Google’s philosophy on the whole idea of social search. You are what you search for.
This is why Google is unafraid of the Facebook-Bing collaboration. While Bing becomes a powerful hybrid social hub/search engine, Google is content to keep honing and honing their algorithm finer and finer, capturing as much data as they possibly can and building a picture of the social experience through a simple search mechanism. With that kind of philosophy, it simply doesn't make sense for Google to approach the social search experience the same way as Bing and Facebook are. It also means that their model is not really being threatened by the new alliance. Google may not integrate as intimately as Bing and Facebook, but that doesn't mean they aren't going to innovate in the social search sphere; they're just going to do it their own way.