Goodbye, Google; hello, Google+

Google PlusBy now, you most likely have heard about Google+, Google’s new entry into the social networking phenomenon. I was fortunate enough to get an early invite, so I’ve spent the last week playing in the application. I think this has the potential to reshape Google’s entire business in ways that will be very, very hard to ignore. It all begins with the name, Google+. It’s not merely a new application, it represents a complete shift in the company’s strategic thrust. It’s THAT significant.

Check your company’s analytics, and you’ll see that, in 99% of cases, Google is the top referrer of eyeballs to your website. Why is that? It’s all about search, and Google owns search. Everything they do is important in that regard, and while most people are comparing G+ to Facebook and/or Twitter, I think that misses the point. Google+ is far more than “just another social network” or a “Facebook killer” (yeah, right), because it incorporates all that is Google.

My search results, for example, are now personalized and presented within the plus framework. I like this very much, because the first organic result often reveals the website most recently visited by me that addresses the search query. This is incredibly useful for those “I read that somewhere” searches.

The two things I find most intriguing for news are both found in the service’s Android app (an iPhone app is coming, but I don’t know if it contains the same abilities as the Android app). One, I can set it so that any picture I take is immediately and automatically uploaded to a folder on my G+ account. This type of application — where a picture I take on earth is automatically distributed to the cloud — is game-changing for the real-time news industry, and I fully expect to see similar applications applied more broadly to the news business. However, G+ is first out-of-the-box with this, and it is powerful. Next will be video. You can count on it. Try to imagine online news with this feature. It will be amazing.

The second Android function involves the information stream of Google+ itself. Since every one you “follow,” gets placed immediately into a circle of your choice (friends, family, coworkers, etc.), you can choose what stream to follow at any given time. It’s a great way to use connectivity, and the infrastructure is all drag-and-drop simple. You can deliver posts to any group as well, including making them “public,” where anybody can see them. This is significant, for it mimics Twitter in that sense.

The mobile app allows you to make your location known to Google (it’s off by default) and then read a stream of posts “nearby.” This has staggering implications for spot news coverage, where geolocation is important. Want witnesses, photos, video? No hashtags necessary, if you’re on location, for if everybody’s using G+ (a big question), a simple swipe of your Android phone gives you everything automatically. This is another innovation that will expand beyond Google, but the reality is that it is Google that brought this to the table.

Jeff Jarvis admitted yesterday that his school, City University of New York (CUNY), is going to have to begin teaching Google+ in its journalism program, and I certainly agree. His views of G+ include many thoughts about its application for news, and I recommend reading this piece.

But the most important thing to note is that Google has the clout to actually force businesses (of their own free will) into its “plus” cavern, and that is a big game-changer. Firstly, Google has announced that Google+ for business is coming, and I’m sure it will incorporate everything of Google’s already stout toolkit for businesses. Secondly, everybody will need a Google profile in order to be fairly “seen” by the search engine. What business would turn that down? It’s free.

And if businesses will use it, we need to know everything about it.

Social media consultant Jay Baer wrote this week that Google’s history is entirely built around the ranking of “Pages” on the Web. It developed PageRank to provide searchers with the best possible results. However, personal publishing via social media has changed everything.

Philosophically, Pages with more and better other Pages linking to them must be better content, and each link counts as a “vote” for that Page. But when the dominant form of expression became something smaller than a Page, and our votes of content confidence became expressed by social sharing and other behaviors that differ from “I’m going to link to this website from my website,” Google found itself trying to play web page ranking poker with less than a full deck of cards. It was trying to do a very difficult job with incomplete information.

This explains, in part, why Google had to make a move like this. The world of information is simply changing, but Baer adds that it is the integration of G+ content into its search algorithms that makes it so potent, especially for businesses. Remember, he points out, Google owns the top two search engines in the world. YouTube is number two.

Google has inserted so many tentacles into so many crevices of our digital lives, that they can compel us to use Plus via integrations and reminders in (just a starter list):

  • Gmail
  • YouTube
  • Picasa
  • Maps
  • Android (the app for Plus is fantastic)
  • Chrome
  • Analytics
  • Blogger

…Here’s the scenario I see unfolding before the end of 2011, and possibly before Labor Day. Google opens up business pages on Plus to Adwords customers. Any clicks and +1 (Google’s version of Facebook “like”) your business content receives on Plus has a direct impact on your organic search engine rankings, while your Facebook activity continues to have no impact.

Go read Jay’s article, for it’s really quite good. Then, if you don’t already have one, create a Gmail account, which will lead to a Google profile, which will lead to Plus. The company has announced that the service will be completely open to everyone by July 29th.

Most observers are writing about how Google+ will impact the news industry, and that’s important. I think its greater shock to the media ecosystem, however, is its potential to once again influence advertising, and that this is what should interest us most. It’s true that the two have always gone together for media companies, but they are increasingly disconnecting, and we must pay very close attention to what’s happening in this space.

This is why my best advice for any media company is still this: don’t leave to geeks what rightly belongs to upper management, especially sales. There’s still far too much ignorance about all of this stuff at the upper management level. Google+ will be a critical element in local advertising downstream. Will people shift from Facebook or Twitter? That’s the wrong question, for in the end, it really doesn’t matter.

Like a great many other things, it’s all about the money. Money doesn’t require mass anymore, and nobody knows that better than Google.

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