Friday, January 27, 2012

Google+: Providing Companies With a New Way to Leverage the Social Web Graph

Earlier this month, Google launched a service to complement its search engine. A page titled “Search, plus Your World” was added to Google’s website, detailing the company’s desire to add social results into the mix of normal results. These new results include relevant tips, photos, and posts from friends on Google’s social network, Google+. For example, if a person searches the term “sushi”, he gets the normal set of results plus sushi-relevant content or media that has been shared on Google+. Interestingly, this new feature impacts both Google and companies looking to promote their brand or product via the internet in a couple of important ways.

The article mentions that brands should seriously consider launching marketing campaigns via Google+ under that reasoning that it is valuable to get an early foothold in developing social network. Because of features like “Search, plus Your World”, this is certainly a valid point. Google clearly intends to leverage its new social product by integrating it into search, so there is no reason why companies shouldn’t look to ride this wave by growing their brands via Google+; the social web graph is incredibly valuable since it provides a relatively low cost method for spreading content and brands. This is because there are certain properties (some known to be universal properties of networks) of the social web graph that make the graph’s structure particularly exploitable for advertising campaigns. As stated in class the other week, the social graph is a very strongly connected entity; ~86% of it is in a strongly connected component, and ~100% is in the weakly connected component. This should come as no surprise; the reason why people sign up for social networking websites is to connect with (or invite) their friends. In addition to strong connectivity, the social graph has a small diameter; the 90%tile diameter is 4.7. These two properties are extremely important because they enforce the idea that content spreads virally with effective coverage, especially if the social graph is online where the interaction rate is quite high for certain demographics. (This idea isn’t all new; companies like LivingSocial have been exploiting the structure effectively via rewarding referral systems for quite some time now.)

Finally, although Google+ certainly has an impact on companies other than Google, its largest impact is likely on Google itself. In particular, it has the potential to boost the accuracy and relevancy of its search engine. So far Google has attempted to keep its normal search results and social results separate; all social results are labeled with an icon, and users have the option of turning off social results via a button near the top of the search results page. However, it is interesting to wonder if Google will (or did) incorporate information from Google+ into its current result generating algorithm. Right now it would make sense for Google to keep the normal and social search results separate because the Google+ crawling algorithm is likely still very young, and keeping the two separate lets Google experiment on how frequently link results pulled from Google+ are clicked on (and how these click rates compare with the default search results). However, Google’s ultimate objective is to return results that are relevant and satisfy users, and it could be very likely that additional information from its growing social graph could (in the long run) help tune the algorithm to show more optimal results. If a correlation is found between the proximity a particular person in the social web graph and click rates for links posted by that person, this could have a huge impact on Google’s search algorithm.

One might ask: why is this important? Why can’t Facebook do this? Google’s secret weapon is its current dominance in the search engine market, and the synergistic effect that could arise if the algorithm is tuned effectively. Although Facebook has chosen to share much of its social data with Bing, Google’s sheer volume of searches per day simply outnumbers Bing. If done correctly (and soon), Google could potentially leverage Google+, leaving Bing behind and securing its position as the world’s top search engine.

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