Google Gets Web 2.0 Religion

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Google Gets Web 2.0 Religion

From where I sit, the most interesting part of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s opening remarks (beyond the fact that he was trying to shape the coverage) was his emphasis on the fact that Google would be integrating user-generated content much more directly into its apps and specifically into search going forward. Co-op does that in several ways. But what is more interesting to me is Google Notebook. Philipp Lensenn links to some screenshots of Notebook, which will be available next week.

Yahoo! has invested heavily in human-edited “social search” (MyWeb and del.ic.ious, among other apps) as a way to differentiate from Google’s “machine approach.” And even though at some level PageRank is a form of “social search,” Google has to date largely shunned social media except at the margins. Here’s my previous post about Google ignoring social media at its own peril.

As of yesterday Google signaled that it will be investing more heavily in user-generated/community content as a core part of the search experience. Notebook then becomes Google’s answer to Yahoo!’s MyWeb (and maybe Yahoo! Answers and Window Live’s new QnA). Without having used Notebook it’s hard to evaluate the user experience. I just saw the slides and the demo. But it looks pretty slick and, like other social bookmarking applications, quite useful.

Like MyWeb, content can be private or public. But it’s the public dimension of this that is really interesting. Just as Yahoo! is threading publicly saved relevant content from other users into its search results, I make the assumption that public “notebooks” will similarly be pushed out into general Google SERPs.

It becomes not unlike Jeteye’sJetpaks” (here a Kenya vacation) or, again in the context of travel, Yahoo!’s Trip Planner (New York vacations). In other words, people have done research and have captured that and made it accessible to others. That’s what Notebook could become – a jumpstart on all manner of queries. So when I input a query for “best laptop for under $1000” or “cheap Hawaiian vacations” or “childcare, San Francisco,” or “honest general contractor in Raleigh, North Carolina” I could well see public notebooks that address these issues. That starts to become very interesting and quite similar to Yahoo!’s strategy.

It all depends of course on whether users participate and create these public notebooks. But fundamentally people do like to share their knowledge and experiences and want to help others (hence the rise of certain of the social networking sites). So my guess is that they will create these notebooks and will want to share them.

With the announcements yesterday it appears that Google is simultaneously pursuing a strategy of mass customization (personalized feeds and verticals, personalized search results, etc.) along with social search or some Google-specific version of it. (Verticalization or, maybe more appropriately, more structured results intersect both areas.) So there’s an interesting paradox of more individually tailored search results and more social/community content and social tools.

If Google manages to execute and do it right it might eventually transform into what is effectively a giant global social network with search as the core navigational scheme. Watch and see.

Greg Sterling is the founding principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, a consulting and research firm focused on online consumer and advertiser behavior and the relationship between the Internet and traditional media, with an emphasis on the local marketplace.

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