Here’s one thing everyone knows: Google’s success lies in managing abundance, delivering you relevant results.
Here’s one thing that apparently is not related to this: a report on how Facebook could kill Google, based on analysis from Ross Sandler. (Just so that you know, the article doesn’t say how Facebook could kill Google, it just compares the size and growth rate of the two giants.)
Here’s one thing worth thinking about: how Facebook could damage Google. Not as a social network in itself (in a way Google is a social network), not as a competitive ad destination (there’s still plenty of money to flow towards online advertising), but as an alternative search engine. Here’s why.
Google is great at simplifying complexity. But it’s a universal search engine, and there’s only so much it can do. So it inevitably loses some ground to its competitors. And they’re not Yahoo or Msn.
When I want to know something, I search Wikipedia. Because I’m sure that there I can find the one, most relevant result. (Even Google acknowledges that, by usually ranking Wikipedia results first). And from there, I can move on to related information.
When I want to buy something, I search Amazon. Well, I don’t, because I’m old fashioned, but plenty of people do.
When I want to watch something, I search Youtube. And that’s what killed Google Video; and why Google bought it.
When I want to find out what’s going on right now about a certain event, I search Twitter. Twitter gives me real time results. Not only Google doesn’t. Google is designed not to, because it privileges older results that have had time to grow relevant for its algorythm, over more recent ones that are relevant for my search.
And when I want to find someone, I search Facebook. Not only is it a search engine for people; it’s the most relevant search engine for people. (At least in the US and Western Europe). After the first click, I get a list of people with pictures, so that I know at first sight if any of them is the person I’m looking for. After the second click, I can contact them, and in many cases find out a whole lot about them.
In general, it seems that internet users are devising new ways to aggregate content around a specific critera, and deliver more relevant results based on human contribution, rather than an algorythm: results provided by Wikipedia are smarter because they are created by a crowd for that specific purpose, and managed by a human intelligence.
To that same extent, every social network becomes an alternative search engine: a specialized, thus more relevant, thus better one. If I want to plan a dinner out, I’m better off running my search in a social network about restaurants/london, then Googling “good restaurant london”, and be flooded by a number of more or less relevant results.
One could argue that Google would redirect me to that social network, and many others, but why waste time with one more unnecessary search, once a preminent, relevant social network emerges?
This is true for simple tasks, but even more so for more sophisticated ones. If I have to research a topic I know little or nothing about, for work or study, where should I start from? If I google it, I can’t really tell the relevant results from the less relevant, and above that the most credible results from the BS, because I have no expertise in the subject.
So here’s what I’d do:
First, start from my usual, trusted sources: Wikipedia and other knowledge social networks. Ask friends and coworkers, fellow students. Maybe ask someone on Linkedin.
Second, check some general trusted sources. Newspapers and magazines with a good reputation. (And who happen to be desperately looking for a new purpose right now, as brilliantly pointed out by Clay Shirky.)
Thirdly, if I haven’t found enough information through my first two sources, or if I want a little more, I can Google. And hopefully by now the first two kinds of sources will have provided me with enough backround expertise to tell the good from the bad.
Does it mean that social networks will kill Google? No. At least not if we look at “Google as an ad platform”.
But I can safely say that “Google as a search engine” has been steadily losing share of my time, and will keep losing more.
Final Burp: Specialized hubs (of knowledge, goods, relationships) will naturally gain ground over unspecialized hubs. (Until the semantic web shows up for real?)