Google Penetrating the Social Graph?

I’ll look into this more fully when I get the chance, but I thought I should share this observation as soon as I noticed it. In Google News right now, it appears that Google have inserted the most popular social media buttons into the results – check out this top story about Rick Santorum on the BBC.

It occurs to me that Google’s biggest problem (and the one they are trying to address with Google+) is that their classic metric is the link.

It also occurs to me that the link is old skool – dating back to a time when people’s main engagement with the internet was through reading, writing and linking to websites. Your grandad’s internet. Web 1.0.

Now in a world where a share on Facebook is more immediate and impactful, that whole link scene looks decidedly dated and, as any fule kno, spammed all to hell and back.

Google’s problem now is how to access sharing data, which is the modern analogue to Web 1.0’s linking paradigm. Both Facebook and Twitter are walled gardens so far as Google is concerned – Google backed out of mining Twitter’s firehose and Facebook has thrown its lot in with Bing for search so their options are limited. But what if Google just started putting sharing buttons into its own properties – like the news result screenshotted above – or even the SERPs themselves? Suddenly they’re getting data on social activity to fold into their algorithms. Farfetched? Well they’re trialling it right now – +1 buttons are all over your SERPs and it looks like Google are getting ready to countenance sticking in other buttons too (side issue: a tiny admission that Google+ is failing?)

Add that to the engagement data they get from Analytics, plus their existing link analysis algorithms and they’ve got a pretty comprehensive thang going on.

But herein lies the danger, both for Google and for the web in general. Google’s biggest problem is still the purpose-built SEO link. You can still buy your way to the top of the rankings by judiciously buying links and setting up networks, as any SEO knows. And so the link landscape is polluted all to hell and back. In a way, it tends not to matter so much, because what does the man in the street care about who hyperlinks to whom? He gets his SERPs and they seem reasonable – who cares if massivebrandedretailer.com is buying links from an SEO agency? Boo hoo.

But now picture a world in which social activity becomes a critical piece of ranking data. What price a ‘like’ on Facebook or a retweet? Google monetised links and hence ruined the notion of links. The same logic follows for social activity. How hard will it be to game social media? A trip to Fiverr.com or Mechanical Turk or any number of forums and you can probably buy ‘likes’ for next to nowt.

From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to fake profiles and polluted timelines. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

 

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