Posted by on Mar 4, 2012 in Google, Innovation, SEO, Social Search | 8 comments

I was talking to a colleague the other day, and she mentioned that a social media company was advising our shared client not to bother with Google+, “Because it doesn’t look like it’s going to take off.” I responded with, “They are a fool, and they don’t get it”. What don’t they get, you ask?

Here is a secret… Google doesn’t care of Google+ dethrones Facebook. That’s not why they built it. They built it because they want to apply the, “Network Effect” to search.

What is the Network Effect?

The network effect is an economic principle that states that the value of a product increases when more people use it. For example, if you were the only person in the world with a telephone, it would be a pretty useless piece of technology. The minute a second person owns a phone, all of a sudden that product becomes pretty useful. The more people who own phones, the more valuable it becomes for everyone.

A second example is Facebook. Facebook wouldn’t be useful if you were the only person on the site. But the more friends that join, the more useful a tool like Facebook becomes. That is why it is so hard for new social networks to enter the space. Even if you hate Facebook, you’re not going to leave it for another network unless your friends are on there already. Could you drag some friends over with you, sure, but it’s probably not worth the effort for everyone to setup brand new accounts. The switching costs are too high. That is the power of the network effect.

Search has been Google’s core product since it was a startup. They stole marketshare from dinosaurs like Altavista and Lycos by using better algorithms, having faster loading results and delivering faster innovation. Throughout the years they’ve planted hooks in us by giving us free tools like analytics, maps, Android, etc. We’re at the point where most Google account holders would never cancel their account completely, but there’s not much to keep us from trying out other search engines like BingBlekko or DuckDuckGo. What Google is missing in search is the network effect.

Imagine if your search experience was primarily powered by your friends and contacts. Let’s also assume that this social graph powered search experience was something that you wanted, and was hands down a better experience than the traditional link graph approach. If this were the case, then the more friends you had in your graph, or the more connections you established, the better your search experience would become. In order to get the same experience on a different search engine, you would need to bring your social graph with you. It is essentially the network effect applied to search.

This scenario is exactly what Google is shooting for. They could care less if you spend hours sharing pictures of kittens on Google+. All they need you to do is setup a profile and place your contacts into the appropriate circles. Once Google knows who you are and who you are connected to, it can start connecting all the information they know about you and your friends to deliver heavily personalized results. Data from:

  • Browsing history
  • Phone (geo, contacts, music, apps, pictures, videos, text, wallet)
  • Maps
  • YouTube
  • Checkout
  • Email
  • IM
  • Blog posts
  • Blog comments
  • etc.

Don’t be a fool

We all know that Google+ isn’t as engaging as Facebook. That is a given. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Google+ is going the path of Buzz and Wave. With over 100,000,000 users in 6 months, I wouldn’t poo poo the fastest growing social network in the world just yet.

Remember… With Google, search is everything.