News24

Google Plus an anti-Facebook

2011-07-13 12:38

New York - Google didn't build its new Plus service simply to have an online hangout like Facebook.

Rather, Google's new social-networking endeavour is about trying to gain valuable insights into people's lives and relationships. This could help the company do a better job of targeting ads so that advertisers would pay more and have less reason to spend their money on Facebook.

If it succeeds, Plus represents Google's best shot yet at muscling into a market that has threatened to topple the internet search and advertising leader, as Facebook leads the way in making the online world social.

Plus is Google's carefully scripted venture into a territory where its previous efforts have been duds.

On the surface, Plus is reminiscent of Facebook - with a Google touch. It lets people share photos and status messages, chat with friends and acquaintances and follow news updates.

Groups

A prominent feature called circles allows users to organise the people they interact with into groups, such as family, close friends or fishing buddies. Users can choose to share things only among certain circles.

Google Plus is still in a restricted, test phase, and invites to join are highly coveted. Only time will tell if it takes off among the broader public or if it's too little, too late to face off with Facebook and Twitter on the social front - just as Microsoft has failed to surpass Google in search with latecomer Bing.

Google has done quite well without its own social network. Its online search engine accounts for two-thirds of queries made in the US, and even more in parts of Europe.

Its revenue is expected to surpass $36bn this year, the bulk of it from text ads that appear alongside search results and other web content. Google reports its latest quarterly results on Thursday.

Online behaviours are changing, though. People are spending more time on Facebook and other social networks. They are increasingly relying on their friends' recommendations when deciding where to eat and what movies to watch.

Google, meanwhile, has bungled past social media efforts. A sharing program called Wave was quickly killed off because users didn't know what to make of it.

Buzz, a later venture, was the centre of a privacy fiasco. Google had been too aggressive about automatically creating circle of friends, which inadvertently revealed whom they've corresponded with on Gmail.

Failure


Early response to Google Plus has been positive. But that's no guarantee for broader success. As Google botched one social media effort after another, Facebook grew exponentially.

Today, half of Facebook's 750 million worldwide users log on to the site every day. That's roughly the entire population of the US and UK combined.

More than 250 million people engage with Facebook in some form on outside websites each month around the world. They do this by clicking the ubiquitous "like" and "recommend" buttons on news and other sites or by logging on to websites using their Facebook passwords.

Google's chair and former CEO, Eric Schmidt, has acknowledged that the company failed to respond to Facebook's threat fast enough. His successor, Google co-founder Larry Page, has made social networking one of his top priorities since he took over in April.

"We don't think it's a coincidence that (Google Plus) was introduced less than three months after Page returned to the CEO post," said Standard & Poor's equity analyst Scott Kessler in a note to clients.

Facebook's greatest advantage is the immense trove of information that its users have shared about themselves through about four billion posts and connections they make collectively every day.

Facebook knows what people are reading, eating and watching. It knows who's friends with whom, and which friends people trust for recommendations on what shoes to buy and which plumbers to hire.

Search results

Google can't index most of this information on its search engine because Facebook doesn't share it.

Instead, Facebook has formed a search partnership with Google rival Microsoft Corp. In May, Microsoft's Bing search engine started to use information from people's Facebook preferences to tweak its search results.

This means Facebook users who search for shoes or concert tickets on Bing might get results that are tailored to the interests they listed on the site. For people who aren't logged on to Facebook when they search, Microsoft's search engine might still emphasise links that other Facebook users have recommended.

That puts Google at a disadvantage. Unless it can get similar data through a social service of its own, Google is left with a formula that sorts through the pattern of web links and other computer data to determine where a site should rank in its recommendation.

The system has become increasingly vulnerable to manipulation by websites looking to rank higher than their rivals. As a result, Google search results might not be as useful as recommendations drawn from an analysis of what they have already signalled that they like by pressing a Facebook button.

There's another key way that social data can help Google.

On Facebook, companies can target their advertising with razor-sharp precision given all sorts of information that people willingly share, such as a preference for Coke over Pepsi or whether they've ever been married.

Targeting ads

For example, they can show a particular Cheetos ad only to single men aged 17 to 41 who live in New York, are Yankee fans and enjoy the World of Warcraft video game.

"That's Facebook's biggest calling card to marketers," said Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst with eMarketer.

Advertisers are typically willing to pay more for such targeting because they'd be pitching to consumers most likely to buy. Google does a good job already of targeting ads based on what people search for, write about in e-mails and watch on YouTube. Social data could help Google do even better.

Danny Sullivan, who follows Google closely as editor-in-chief of the website Search Engine Land, said that if Google Plus succeeds, Google would get "a good insurance policy" amid the rise of social networks.

The need for it became apparent when Google's deal to include Twitter updates in its search results expired recently, Sullivan said. Google has temporarily shut down its "RealTime" search feature, though it told users to stay tuned while it explores how Google Plus will figure into it.

That said, Google Plus doesn't necessarily need to be a Facebook clone.

"Google needs to have a social strategy that is relevant to Google and the way people use Google applications," said Susan Etlinger, analyst at Altimeter Group. "That's very different from how people use Facebook."

Hangout

Facebook is, for now, an online hangout above all. People go there to scan status updates, chat with a friend or look at the latest photos, without necessarily having something specific in mind.

With Google, people usually have an objective, whether that's searching for a hair stylist or sending an e-mail about an upcoming party. Google's task is to make its existing products social as "social" becomes the norm for online activity, she said.

"Eventually everything is going to be a social network," Etlinger said. "Social capabilities will be in everything on the web."

Comments
  • stefanie.fourie - 2011-07-13 13:15

    I WANT GOOGLE PLUS!!! :D

  • Collen - 2011-07-13 13:34

    Plus works the same as Facebook. Somehow one can still search the web without having to open a new tab. It's cool. But Facebook is where the people are. Otherwise all the people (friends aready on Facebook) should move to google if really one can have them in one place (I mean having to log in to FB and Plus.

      Jeeva - 2011-07-15 19:01

      G+ Got 70mil users in 2 weeks, slashing Facebook's record. Content delivery is also far superior on G+. G+ uses Google for search engine purposes, it also integrates with your google homepage + Google chrome. Facebook uses Microsoft Bing (which sux). Facebook doesn't natively integrate with your browser. But ya, everyone has their flavour but a.t.m. Facebook is for the average joe, that knows where to switch on a computer. While G+ is pulling the skilled users.

  • Han Solo - 2011-07-13 13:47

    I'll stay on facebook thanks..

  • Dean Moore - 2011-07-13 13:50

    Its pretty much the same as facebook, except Google targets making money for themselves.. Facebook ad's are non-obtrusive and its not the goal of FB to make money, the opposite being said for Google..

      donkerhond - 2011-07-13 14:04

      Yeah... because searching using google just fills your screen with ads. Until the pay-per-click concept became mainstream, most people didn't even notice the ads as ads.

      Shistirrer - 2011-07-13 14:04

      Dean, I suppose you haven't seen Google+ yet. I am one of the lucky ones to be on it, and it's AWESOME! No corny FarmVille status updates and messages (yet), no ads (yet), and it's a very handy portal into your gmail, calendar, etc. It has taken the best of FB and LinkedIn and left out all the crap. Oh, and by the way, FB's goal is not to make money? What is it then?

      str4f3 - 2011-07-13 14:27

      Hmm been on plus for a week now, and have quite a lot of friends on it. It is very similar in many ways to f-book, just has a different skin. and to be honest dean you couldnt be more wrong about fbook not being all about money, it constantly annoys me with its lame marketing attempts.

      MockTurtle - 2011-07-13 14:52

      wat? facebook is a non-profit organisation? funniest thing i heard in a while!

      nic - 2011-07-13 15:05

      Dean, in his personal capacity, Mark Zuckerberg is worth over $13 billion. How on earth can you say they are not their to make money. Do yourself a favour and watch the Social Network...

  • Pickle - 2011-07-13 14:50

    At least my profile on google+ is not overrun with adverts and crap. I hardly ever see any statuses or news from my friends on facebook anymore. This makes me like google+ A LOT. hope it stays that way!

      MockTurtle - 2011-07-13 14:59

      i maintain there's always a point in a social network's lifespan where number of stupid people overtakes number of savvy, intellectual people. facebook is waay past that point.

  • Rikhogrande - 2011-07-13 15:34

    Moving to GOOGLE + as soon as its available... this facebook share to everyone thing just doesn't work for me...

      Bubbles007 - 2011-07-13 15:40

      You can change your settings so as not to share with everyone...

  • nvl - 2011-07-13 17:57

    No more social networking for me. I have had it with  my tweetingfacespace!! If you need me, call me. :)

      sean.redmond3 - 2011-07-15 17:56

      Hello is that nvl? Oh hi just called to say hi..........

  • preshengovender69 - 2011-07-14 08:45

    facebook is like being in Jail,you write on walls ,waste time and get poked by people you do not know

      sean.redmond3 - 2011-07-15 17:58

      The poking part is stuuupid. What gives with that sh*t???????

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