jump to navigation

A modest proposal for the Google+ search integration problem January 16, 2012

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Google’s integration of Google+ and profile information into personalized search results is creating quite a stink. Twitter complained. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sent a letter to the FTC. Charges of favoritism and its being anticompetitive monopoly swirled. Let me make a perhaps contrarian argument that, rather than squabbling, Twitter and Facebook should do some serious negotiating with Google and license data to the search giant in exchange for big fees and reciprocal data sharing.

Longtime search watcher John Battelle and I seem to be in the minority that believes a little cooperation could enable each company to play to its strengths and grow its own business. Cross-licensing would make the core products of each stronger and would still maintain competition in areas like unified communicationsidentity management and creating the most powerful interest graph. No doubt licensing would be complicated. Possibly, to avoid privacy concerns and assuage regulators, each company must get access to the other’s data only after it has been anonymized. Each could combine its own data with the anonymized data to offer opt-in personalization features (e.g., relevant search results, info filtering, preferred content) and targeted marketing to its own users. That might require a third party to act as clearinghouse for the data exchange.

Consider the needs and objectives of the players involved:

Google. Google needs to incorporate social signals into its search algorithms to improve quality — especially in the face of thinning bad content-farm results — and individualized relevance. Google doesn’t need Google+ to succeed as a destination and to compete head-to-head with Twitter and Facebook for technologies like +1s, video chat and company pages to thrive and add to its other products. Google says, somewhat snarkily, that it is willing to negotiate.

Twitter. Twitter might ultimately make more money from licensing than advertising, and it used to license its full-feed “firehose” to Google. This is a different situation than Twitter’s licensing to a company like Jive Software or even to resellers like Gnip and DataSift. It should demand large royalties from Google, which should be able to pay. As Twitter builds up its advertising business, comparing aggregated search info with its own interest data will deliver better analysis on predicting purchase behavior. And if Twitter is developing search for its own feed, more power to it. Google’s interest in real-time search has waned, likely because that kind of service is more important for news than commerce.

Facebook. Facebook has stayed quiet during the current fracas, but though it licenses data to Microsoft, it reportedly rebuffed Google. Battelle’s source tells him that Facebook wanted stricter privacy assurances than Google offered, but I suspect it was more about two-way data sharing — that is, getting access to Google data in return. There is no need for Facebook to compete with Google in the general-purpose search business: It would be hugely expensive and a bad fit for its brand. Like Twitter’s, Facebook’s ad targeting could be improved by aggregated search data, but it doesn’t necessarily need large licensing fees. However, Facebook does need its company pages to be found by searchers, and that is already one area it allows Google to index. Google must assure Facebook that there is a level playing field on company and brand promotion.

Potential deal breakers

Besides failing to negotiate terms they all can live with, what might prevent such licensing?

But what’s the harm in negotiating? Maybe all the drama is just to get the companies to the bargaining table. There’s no telling what’s really going on behind the scenes. But data licensing between any of these companies would make their current products stronger, even without some complex three-way solution.

Question of the week

What are the chances that Google, Twitter and Facebook will cross-license data?

What the Google-Facebook Battle Is Really About May 16, 2011

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Facebook’s silly scheme to plant anti-Google privacy stories further highlights the bitter rivalry between the two companies, but it also points at what they’re really fighting over. The competition is not so much about each company’s core business — search vs. advertising-powered social networking — as it is about future products and services, and each company’s respective role as a technology platform provider. And potential partners and competitors need to know which battles these two competitors will take seriously so they can adjust their own priorities and investments.

Here are the key areas of competition for Facebook and Google:

  • The “interest graph:” In contrast to a social graph of information about relationships between people, an interest graph based on topics might actually be a better indicator of purchase intent than what friends — who may not have similar tastes — like. Facebook Likes and Google search results feed such a graph — though Twitter may have more easily collectible info here than either.
  • Web navigation: Facebook hasn’t proven it can drive shoppers to commerce sites the way Google can, but it’s becoming an important source of visitors to online media sites like the New York Times, CNN and HuffPo. Consumer platforms depend on habitual use, so Google can’t risk losing ground as an overall web-discovery vehicle.
  • Communications: It’s unlikely social media will completely replace email, but both Google and Facebook are competing to be a user’s unified communications hub by integrating mail, chat and posts with contact lists and presence management. Such a hub would generate constant use and potential customer lock-in, and be a rich source of contact data.
  • Identity management/authentication: Facebook tries to enforce a single, authentic user identity, but it isn’t very good at letting that user manage his relationships between different types of friends or groups. Google does offer a sign-on service, but its Profiles are mostly for search personalization. Authenticated identities could play a big role in payments systems and professional/career relationships.
  • Ad networks: Google ad networks dominate search and are strong in direct-marketing display. In theory, Facebook’s Like network could serve context- and behavior-based advertising on sites web-wide. Facebook’s complaint that Google scrapes social information without explicit permission might be based on potential privacy legislation. One bill under consideration would give companies with formal consumer relationships more freedom to use data for advertising. That would give a company like Facebook an advantage over third-party ad networks.

Build, Buy or License?

Facebook doesn’t seem interested in building a conventional search engine, but Google sure is trying to build out some Facebook-like technologies. Google recently introduced +1, a competitor to Facebook Likes, where users recommend search results, ads and, eventually, web pages. Website owners will no doubt flock to +1 for its potential influence on Google search ranking. But, faced with yet another link-sharing option, users may ignore +1, especially since Google lacks an established equivalent of Facebook’s news feed to display links.

Neither company likes to license technology or data from other companies, with the exception of Facebook’s Microsoft partnership. Google seems to have some arrangement with Facebook that gives it access to Facebook company Pages, but the two have long bickered over sharing contact information.

Since they don’t like partnerships, how about acquisitions? Business Insider has a laundry list for Google, but two are big and might also appeal to Facebook:

  • Twitter: Either company’s ad business could instantly monetize Twitter better than Twitter can itself. But neither may need to buy into Twitter, as it seems pretty easy to get access to Twitter data.
  • LinkedIn: The professional social network is stingier about sharing data, has a working business model and could play an important role in identity authentication. But it’s about to go public, so would-be acquirers would have to act fast.

Question of the week

What are Facebook and Google really fighting over?