The Uncertain Future of Social-Information Technology
If you are one of the 91 million people who seeks refuge in the familiar feeling of letting Google answer your everyday queries, then you are beginning to see changes beyond the daily theme that drapes their iconic logo. They are trickling in incrementally (they introduced author information results over the holiday), however these small changes have the potential to ultimately accumulate in a force that could not only alter SEO, but also drastically change the way you use technology to satisfy both your simple and complex informational needs. Many people have already ditched Google, preferring Siri's knowledge and soothing medium to the often arduous task of mining through Google search results. There appears to be an upcoming battle between Google, Apple, Facebook or wherever else you get information from, and whoever can integrate the most is likely to prevail.
Launched in June of 2011, initially in a field test/invite only phase, Google+ is still yet to seriously challenge the holy trinity of social networking that is Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It currently has around 40 million active users, a far cry from the 800 million people that maintain a Facebook profile. As it becomes increasingly popular, the question emerges: will slow and steady win the race? If Google+ integrates, can it become a dominant force in social media or is it merely the movie sequel that you wished you hadn’t wasted 10 bucks on?
Less than a month ago, Google+ made a great leap when it released its Business Pages feature. Like Facebook’s “Fan Pages,” Google's version allows companies and brands to foster trust, identification, sense of community, and direct communication with its customers/users; but Google+’s version has the potential to have a far greater impact on the social networking landscape.
The key word here is integration. While many scoff at Google+ as it crawls through its infantile stages, Google has big plans for “Plus.” First, as more companies create pages, it offers a quick, efficient and reliable way to locate small businesses. Rather than spending 3 minutes squinting at a flower shop’s poorly curated website in search of an address or phone number, the user can merely type “Flowers4Her+” into Google and its basic information will be immediately available; plus the number will be linked for easy calling. Additionally, as these pages are “in house” results, they will appear more frequently when a user searches for “Flowers near Union Square.” Page admins are able to use segmentation to target a specific demographic of their customers, and improve their customer service by chatting face-to-face. The future integration is expected to include, but not be limited to, the Apps for Business Productivity suite, word processing, document sharing, Calendars, Gmail, E-Commerce, Google Adwords and Analytics services, and Maps and location based tie-ins. If all Google utility is integrated, Google+ could become a one-stop shop for social networkers. And if a user is already using Google+ to find flowers for his girlfriend, paying with Google+'s E-Commerce feature, putting a reminder in his Google+ calendar, and finding a restaurant for dinner, it is likely that he will also connect with an old college buddy while he’s there. For his sake, let's just hope he doesn't consider an an e-card and opts for the real thing.
So what could this mean for the future? Attempts to answer that question can only lead to speculation and yep...more questions. Nonetheless, you can almost feel the techtonic plates shifting under your feet. November has been the most active month for IPOs since July with 13, including technologies Yelp and Groupon (which has plummeted 42% in price in its last 5 days of trading). Will Yelp’s popularity be short lived when customers can get the same utility elsewhere? Or in an easier format? As new technologies emerge, they bear great uncertainty. But ultimately, accesibility, utility, and usability will decide this fight. Furthermore, with the impressive aptitude of Siri, iPhone users were opened to a world in which the consumer could circumvent mobile tools like the Google search bar, and third party apps like Yelp and Urban Spoon. (Plus, they didn't even need to look at the screen, let alone type and decipher the results) The iPhone 5 is rumored to release this coming spring, and all signs point to a reinvented body type and an improved version of everyone’s favorite digital companion. We can expect that by then Google+ will have made the necessary integrations to make finding information easier. Plus, who knows what the new Facebook phone, (codename Buffy) is going to bring to the table. (Mark Zuckerberg has publicly expressed reluctance to an IPO for months, but recently is becoming more open to the idea even as early as this Spring) This technology slugfest could have greater implications than Ali-Frazier!
So what do we know now? People are currently using, and loving Siri; but how much of that use is due to the “cool” factor of a fresh piece of software? Siri consolidates your answer sources, generating results from a growing multitude of partners including OpenTable, Yelp, Yahoo, StubHub, Movie Tickets, Rotten Tomatoes and Wolfram Alpha (to name a few); allowing you to get all your information in one place. If Siri 2 combs out some glitches, and more and more people join the iPhone family, how it affects Google’s utility and what Google+ looks like down the road could truly reshape the social information landscape. Both Google+ and Siri have the potential to be disruptive technologies, with the power, resources, and reach to replace competitors in the information world. It is hard to predict now, but as a social networker and technology addict, I am beginning to wonder who will be telling the future me where to find the nearest pumpkin latte this time next year.
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-Scott Anthony Procops
He tweets here: @TheS_P500