Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Google, Gmail, Relevance Filtering & the Future of Social Media

[This blog post was cross-posted with my new blog on the Forrester Blog for Interactive Marketers:  http://blogs.forrester.com/marketing/2010/02/google-gmail-relevance-filtering-the-future-of-social-media.html]

Is the Social Media world about to change on Tuesday? Probably not, but all eyes will be on Mountain View tomorrow when Google announces their latest venture into the social sphere, reportedly a social add-on to Gmail.

Let me begin by saying that I know absolutely nothing about what Google has up its sleeve, but let's speculate. Why? Because like Apple, Google is one of those rare companies that can still capture our imaginations and make us hope for a new product or service that will dazzle our eyes and change our lives.

At first glance, the addition of status updates to Gmail--if that is in fact what Google is announcing--seems to add nothing new. After all, Yahoo added "Status-Casting" to their mail and IM offerings six months ago. Moreover, it would seem to make little sense for Google to try to compete directly with Facebook and Twitter, the reigning kings of the status update realm.

But what if Google isn't aiming to compete with Twitter and Facebook but instead with Seesmic and Hootsuite? What if Google doesn't care about owning the stream so much as accessing the content and owning the place where consumers look (and where AdSense ads can be served)? For some, it would be a powerful combination to aggregate email and status feeds in one simple and powerful tool. And add Google's Android and Nexus One into the mix for mobile viewing, and you begin to see the makings for a dominant and portable tool for managing highly personalized real-time information.

Let's not stop our speculation there. Where else might Google take us once they gather and display our friends' tweets, emails and status updates? Well, what is the one thing at which Google excels, more than anything else? Relevance! Search for it, and chances are you will find just what you were seeking at the top of Google's first search engine results page.

How might Relevance Filtering change our ability to monitor what is pertinent and ignore what is not? Admit it--you find Facebook and Twitter noisy. Do you care about Farmville? Some of you do; most of you do not. How about your friends' FourSquare check-ins? Some of you care where your local friends are, but most of you likely couldn't care less where I'm dining when I'm thousands of miles away.

That's the trouble with today's Social Media tools--they are largely based on People Filtering (following everything posted by select individuals) rather than Relevance Filtering (seeing only what is relevant while ignoring what is not). To get a sense of the power of Relevance Filtering, see the chart below; based on this simple example, Relevance Filtering cuts down on the data received by 50% and more than doubles the relevance. Less time, less noise, more pertinence--where do I sign up?

The company that not only aggregates our friends' lifestreams but turns them from data into interesting and useful information would own the world, wouldn't they? Google was the hands-down winner of Web 1.0. Might they be about to repeat the feat in the Web 2.0 era?

I'm not expecting anything that earth shattering from Google's announcement tomorrow, but you have to think the folks in Mountain View have more on their minds than simply tweaking Gmail to compete with Facebook and Twitter. Time will tell, and I'll be watching where Google is heading, not just where they are.

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