The biggest social web story of 2012 is the continued decentralization of our online experience and whether Google will be able to evolve its business model in order to remain relevant within this new ecosphere. This week, Mat Honan wrote in The Case Against Google:
Our searches have evolved from the merely factual to the deeply personal. We want to find a nice hotel or a good restaurant or a particular person. We want to know what’s happening right now, right here. And increasingly, we turned to smaller, fragmented, platforms to get that stuff.
For instance, if I am looking for a hotel, the Google search engine is unlikely to be my go-to app. It will work, but with 115,000 results that encompass a myriad of ads, links to travel sites and other less-than-useful fluff, it is not very efficient. A specialized site like Yelp, though, shows me 15 hotels – exactly what I am looking for, and I get the same results on a web browser or the app on my phone.
Specialization is a fact-of-life, but it does not mean that older, large companies, cannot adapt and evolve with the times. This struck me just last December, when I stumbled across a post on social media ROI by Olivier Blanchard and liked it so much that I clicked-over to Amazon and bought his book. That probably happens thousands of times every day, but the real revelation came to me when Olivier’s book arrived at my door the very next day – that is efficiency!
Amazon, a company that is older and larger (based on revenues) than Google, has continuously focused on the customer experience with innovations that challenge the prevailing wisdom (Amazon Prime) and bring new technologies like e-readers and cloud computing to the masses. Google, on the other hand, seems to have trouble getting their ideas past the concept-stage (Wave, Buzz, Checkout, etc.).
Without question, Google is an innovative company – they just seem to lack the customer focus of a company like Amazon. What was Vic Gundotra’s (Senior VP of Social Business) response when questioned about the seeming lack of activity on Google+? “Make sure you’re using it correctly.”
To date, Google has failed to make serious inroads against the three major social web platforms of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In addition, the buzz in social content discovery has been dominated by upstart Pinterest – a company with 15 employees that is driving more traffic to retailers than LinkedIn or Google+.
Google can talk-up Google+ and its emergence onto the social web scene, but if they continue to ignore real benefits for users, then the social web is going to pass them by. As Pinterest has shown, innovation in the social web is not measured in years, but in weeks and months. Google has the tools to be a success on the social web, but it is going to require a wholesale change in focus and more than a little luck.