Has Google Missed the Social Media Train?

Oct.30.07 | About: Alphabet Inc. (GOOG)

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) doesn’t seem to ‘get’ social media.

1) Google has been very busy pandering (rather than building meaningful relationships with) entertainment media Goliaths.

2) Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) just moved on Facebook.

3) Google is letting company politics seep into their PageRank update.

4) Google could have leveraged its Toolbar product in the world of social media to the extent that wildly successful StumbleUpon has (acquired by eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) – who will use it to drive e-commerce transactions).

5) Google is actively warring with social media itself by penalizing virally successful Web sites.

6) Google’s Orkut social media experiment is a total failure to all but the Brazilian drug cartel.

I stand ready to receive word on something new and innovative in days ahead (according to leaks out of Google something big in the area of social media/social networking is coming) but for now I’m not convinced Google has much going for itself. That stated, I do see the company as having tremendous opportunity at its doorstep in terms of the Media 2.0 realm (they can one day be King of the Attention Economy).

For now, Google doesn’t get social media and their recent “Universal” algorithm update (where they are beginning to include video and images in search results pages) is proof. Considering how marketers don’t much use video yet – or have images properly tagged for search engines to discover them – this seems obvious and, hence, the move translates to the initiative being less about Google ‘getting’ social media and more about pandering to big entertainment.

Google wants to monetize social media – not protect it. Wonder why Google took forever to release its copyright violation “fingerprinting” detection software? Simple: to figure out a way to use that same technology to monetize it (rather than protect it) and cut entertainment companies in. Thanks to Searching for Profit’s Amanda Watlington for pointing that out to us. Did they wait too long and will the ad models they’re testing on consumers pan out? We’ll see in short time but as media futurist, Gerd Leonhard (MusicLikeWater.com, EndofControl.com) tells us we don’t have forever to monetize new digital media ecosystems. There is risk in delay.

Google has compounded their missed opportunity with social media by letting company politics seep into their PageRank update. Clearly Pagerank sits at the heart of HOW Google rates and ranks Web sites. However, industry luminaries/insiders agree—it is all but dead in terms of a viable means to rank sites. Why? Google’s platform has been gamed to death (Businessweek: ‘Hotwiring Your Search Engine’) by marketers and their (the biggie) affiliates. In simple terms, the system was so easily defeated by commercial interests it is now becoming less and less powerful, useful. The core is rotting and Google is worried… and not afraid to react as they did last week.

Yet Google is running scared from social media. Insider Wayne Smallman of BlahBlahTech.com says:

Instead of ‘Googling’ for something, we find stuff being sent to us as emails from friends, in our profiles, in a friends’ lists of favourites, or any number of user-generated websites, blogs, RSS feeds, Social Networks and Social Media portals. While we’re busying ourselves voting and commenting on this stuff, we’re not using Google’s search algorithm, and we’re not clicking on Sponsored Links, either.

As pointed out by Mr. Smallman’s readers, Google is resorting to blackballing “paid links” and has been creating FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) among Webmasters for a while now via bloggers like Matt Cutts. Google is on the social media defensive.

As well, Google has been, for some time now, actively warring with social media by penalizing virally successful Web sites in its search index—ranking them lower in search engine results pages (SERPs). This is documented all over the Web. In fact, in a colossal slip-up, Google once mistakenly targeted its own AdSense blog for deletion!

Meanwhile, widgets and ad-driven widget networks (i.e. WidgetBucks.com) race across the Web at light speed – capturing ad dollars. As well, RSS (real simple syndication) powered syndication tools are making it possible for consumers to find ways around Almighty Google. The consumer reviews space is red hot now. Certainly these make for potential acquisition targets for Google and others.

Sam Harrelson (CostPerNews.com, Revenews.com) suggests we’re about to see something huge from Google:

Google will win the social game by being more open than anyone. The social network of the coming years will not be a walled garden or specific app like Stumbleupon. Instead, it will be the leveraging of all of our content and data with open APIso that we (or others we trust) can use those to build very niche and very user-centric applications that push-pull data all over the place.

He continues,

Facebook isn’t compelling because all of your friends are there. It’s compelling because it aggregates all of their data and yours. Google sees that and is going to out aggregate Facebook while opening it up to the outside (something facebook can’t do). And that is a potentially killer strategy. Facebook has a platform to allow third parties to build applications on Facebook itself. But what Google may be planning is significantly more open—allowing third parties to both push and pull data, into and out of Google and non-Google applications.

If Mr. Harrelson is right (and he usually is) Google passed up Facebook with good reason and we all need to cool jets.

According to Forrester Research, “Social media will drive emerging channels to $10 billion by 2012. Spending on social media alone will grow to $6.9 billion.” What will Google’s take be? What might they have in store?