No one can argue that Google is the most profitable advertising company that the world has ever seen. Launching just over 14 years ago (with an IPO seven years ago) they have very quickly earned their place on the list of the top 20 most valuable companies in the world. All of this success and growth has been driven by their well-known corporate mission statement:
“To organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (http://www.google.com/about/corporate/company/index.html)
Ten years ago – this was certainly the right goal and it has brought Google great riches. However, how sustainable is this long term goal? And further, how has the rise of social networking (specifically Facebook) affected this goal?
Allow me to explain.
When the internet first launched, there was no way to find anything you were looking for. The miracle of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention (the World Wide Web) was the ability to link documents to each other through hyperlinks – but unless you knew where to start (the exact URL address of the website you wanted) – there was no way to find anything.
Search engines allowed people to find things on the internet and facilitated the rapid expansion of the web. Although somewhat late to the game (search engines have been around since 1989 – infographic: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/timeline-of-search-engine-history/search-engine-timeline.jpg) Google quickly took the top spot on the search engine hierarchy capturing 70+% marketshare by the mid-late 00’s.
Search engine dominance has always depended on two things: index and ranking algorithm. That is – the percent of the overall information on the web that has been indexed by the search engine (coverage) – and the efficacy at which the engine can retrieve relevant results from that index. Google has always had the biggest index and the best algorithm, but the recent popularity spike in social networking may threaten Google’s dominance.
Studies suggest that people spend as much as 25% of their online time on Social Networks (http://mashable.com/2011/09/12/23-percent-online/). Also – social networking has been driving an explosion of online content creation, from pictures to video to prose. However, Google can’t touch any of this material because it’s protected behind social network passwords (making it unreachable by Google’s crawlers).
The dominance of Google is predicated on their massive “one-to-many” relationship they hold with each of their users. This fully centralized model means that
1) Google is only as good as the index that it has stored on its servers
2) Google can only help you find things you already know you’re looking for (based on your search queries)
Now that people are spending increasing portions of their online time on pages that Google can’t index – and those pages are growing in number – there is an emerging problem with Google’s goal of organizing the world’s information.
Facebook is well on their way to effectively facilitating a network of “many-to-many” relationships – empowering people to exchange questions and ideas with other people they know and trust. If they can figure out how to facilitate these connections and deliver results as fast as Google, there will likely be a big shake up in the way we search for information on the internet.
For the sake of impact – consider the following scenario. You’re searching for the contact information for your long lost best friend from grade school. If you’re lucky and your friend’s name is Dan McMenamin (as in my case) – you may happen upon his LinkedIn profile on the first page of Google Search results (third listing from the top – not bad). However, what if your friend’s name is John Smith? Good luck finding your relevant Google results among the over 76 million listings triggered by that query.