What Would D-Mac Do


Friday, April 30, 2010

The Open Graph is a Paradigm Shift, not a Google Killer

The Open Graph has everyone in a tizzy. I won't belabor that point because every blog with a digital bent has been wall-to-wall Facebook Open Graph since Thursday. I was actually meaning to post about this earlier and then a discussion interally about Open Graph replacing links got me to thinking about how the very nature of how people interact with the web is evolving, and THAT may in fact be something search marketers (or just like, marketers in general) need to be aware of.

The internet has been all about communication and sharing since its inception half a billion years ago. However, the way people experience the web (and subsequent webpages) has predominately been a solitary exercise. That is, it has been incumbant on you, the user to go out and seek something. Search engines have proven to be exeptionally efficient at serving users in this paradigm. What I'm suggesting is that perhaps we are arriving at a point where it will no longer be incumbent on the user to do something. PERHAPS the future of ones' web experience is in the web knowing what to serve up without you fumbling about in an interface (we'll say "google web search" for the sake of argument) to get it. Then Skynet will become self aware and take over the world. Sounds far fetched? Well consider a convergence of a few things (note-these are not in sequential order):

First, there's Open Graph. We all know about this right? Blah blah blah you post like buttons on your site...blah blah blah people like things and tell their friends, blah blah blah Facebook is going to raid your credit info, rig elections and stamp out the Tea Party (or whatever the latest tin foil hat theory is on privacy on FB). None of this is particularly new or groundbreaking as Digg, Reddit, Stumbledupon and their ilk have been doing this for years. In fact, this was a primary function of the USEnet crowd way back in the day. What DOES set this apart is that social networks like Facebook are a boon for demographic info. You're motivated by virtue of the function to talk about yourself. Their targeted ads (tragic as they may be in many cases) are an example of how they've used this data. Well, based on HOW you're connected to people (friends, co-workers, family) and what you have in common (age, hair color, single/married, liberal/conservative) Facebook can start to make assumptions about what you may be interested in. And by the way, isn't this insanely powerful? I mean, can you imagine trying to describe this concept to somebody in 1985? Let alone, this guy? Anyway, the premise is that Facebook purports to deliver you better and more targeted content based on your social 'graph' than otherwise possible. Needless to say, there's a great debate about whether or not this is going to kill Google because people will just "like" things rather than link. In a sense it does sort of bypass the need for link pop if things are socially connected. But in another, as Rand Fishkin pointed out today, even a mass amount of websites participating in this would realistically amount to maybe 15-20% of the web. Google's ability to find things goes way beyond that. I'll get back to Rand's ideas later so you have that to look forward to.

Consider an interview with John Batelle where he makes (IMHO) a VERY astute observation about how the mobile web has become such a powerful presence and a vastly different user experience than the desktop. The gist of John's idea is that where Google has gotten very good at gathering data from many different sources and organizing it into a search result, the mobile web is becoming more app based creating "middleware" which is a fancy way of saying 'specialized search apps that aren't good at a lot of things, but rather very very good at searching for one particular thing'. In other words, in the mobile world, rather than be all things to all people, things are app based so search functionality can specialize in one particular vertical. Furthermore, his discussion about the iphone platform is right on IMHO (and no I'm not an Apple Fanboi, nor do I think the iphone is the end-all-be-all of phones). The medium is not the point..it's the concept that works. Factor out the fact we're talking about Apple here and just consider what happened...they launched a platform that enables third party developers to freely develop on open source platforms for a closed environment. That premise spawned 140,000 apps before the damn thing even launched. John then hones it back into Apple, but I think Apple has tapped into a larger cultural movement. You see, what they did was ENABLE (and monetize) 3rd party developers to specialize apps. Rather than big fat apps that require loads and loads of support, a developer has a built-in audience of millions of Apple fanbois. What occurs is small apps that are meant to do one or two specific things, and they do it way better than the big bloated programs of the desktop computing world. And since the support for them is so much more minimal because Apple has strict guidelines to get an app in the store, they can price them to move. The net result is that everything is insanely affordable (or free in many cases). It's no wonder it's the biggest app platform in the world after only 3 years in play.

Which leads me to my next point.
Steve Jobs more or less brought the hammer down on Adobe Flash this week (in a fantastic-only-Steve-Jobs-could-put-you-in-your-place-like-that way). Seriously..I could listen to that guy PWNZ the hell out of companies all day long. He goes into a few of the many reasons Flash is complete failcakes but he also has a phrase in there that pretty much sums up a much larger point (and helps shed some light on why the iPad really is a game changer even though it's really just a big iPod Touch). The following has much larger implications than just Flash not being on your iPhone:

"Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short."

The PC era? Yeah the PC era...we've named it now (and by we, I mean Steve Jobs, but in all fairness, part of what makes Apple the second biggest company on the S&P 500 is their ability to move entire industries in a certain direction). If you think about it, he's right. The mobile web will overtake the PC web. Why? Because its faster, more efficient, and the apps and development standards are better (well that and the fact you can play Farmville on Facebook while sitting on the beach via mobile). The app store success (and the scrambling by Google with the Android platform) is all the more testament I need for that.

What's the point?

The point I'm getting at is all of these things are serving to fundamentally change how we experience the web. Social engagement, app based web experience and the paradigm the mobile web brings with touch interfaces presents entirely new ways of delivering and receiving information.

Why is that bad for Google?

Google is very good at serving users in the PC era. So far, it's not particularly all that good at it in the mobile web. They most definitely didn't bring their A game to the Android or the Nexus One...they haven't REALLY embraced social (Orkut anyone?) and their attempts with their own brand of like buttons in SERPs usually are DOA. So when Rand Fishkin says "Well hey! Google thinks social is important too! See how they cut a deal with Twitter?! Facebook LOSE!" ...he's right...but that doesn't necessarily mean Google has it in the bag. I think the problem is that we're reaching a point where a search result page is reaching the end of its life-cycle (yeah I said it). While Google has spent all this time dissecting query intent, gathering data...perhaps the whole idea of driving it back to a search result is not really what the mobile age is all about? Do we really think that paradigm is the end-all-be-all for the ages? That there isn't a way to do it better than a Search Engine Result Page? That's why I would suggest unless Google is able to entirely re-dress the way they present data to the user, then I would suspect eventually Google will fall out of favor with the crowd that doesn't want to see a list of blue links, a map here, a video there and a mess of ads up along the side. THAT crowd would rather just cut to the chase when they are hungry by clicking on their food app that already knows where they are, what restaurants are near and what their friends think is good.
I reserve the right to be wrong...and I realize I'm just pondering out loud...but I sense these things are indicative of a larger (and more fundamental) change in how information is served up. Somehow, I sense this whole notion of Google thinking brands are where its at will have some kind of impact. They may be right, but like William Gibson said, "The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things"

Do I think there's still going to be a place for SEO? Sure...we were around before Google, and we'll be around long after :-)

EDIT: after re-reading this and listening to some input, I've begun to think it's important to define the key differences between the PC-Era and the Mobile Era (at least as I see it):

PC Era -Software ignores the device because the device does not inform the experience. Experiences are uniform in that users interact with information by pointing, clicking and typing. The ability to best anticipate what exactly a user is looking for when they set about looking for something determines what the best search engine is, and that's why Google leads the pack

Mobile Era -The device absolutely informs the software design and experiences vary based on the device type. Users aren't limited to just pointing and clicking on shit anymore; rather touch-screens, tilt-functionality and single-function apps define the user experience. It appears to ability to provide the user with the best experience based on their demographic and geographic information determines what the best engine is, and by no means is Google the worst at this, they certainly aren't the best. As of right now, the leader in search in the mobile era is still anyone's game.

No comments:

Post a Comment