Google weaves Larry Page's social strategy into Maps, Search

Nearly two years ago, CEO promised social would transform users' experience with Google. Here it comes

SAN FRANCISCO -- It became clear at Google I/O this week that Google is quietly but assuredly implementing CEO Larry Page's strategy to use Google+ to transform the entire Google experience.

Without fanfare and with barely a mention of making products more social, one Google executive after another took the stage during the four-hour keynote at the Google I/O developers conference Wednesday and talked about changes coming to major products like Google Maps and Google Search.

But many of those changes announced the conference focused on making the products more personal and more social. And that means more integration with Google +, the company's nearly two-year-old social network, to weave all things social into them.

"They said it again and again. It's not about the technology. It's about the people," said Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner Inc. "They can't make it about the people unless they have a social graph to know their people. Google is not about social networking. Google is about apps and services. But they need that social element in them."

That line of thinking follows perfectly with how Page described his social strategy long before the company trotted out its social Maps and Search products at this year's Google I/O.

In October 2011, just months after the company launched its social network Google+, Page said he was less interested in building a popular social network than he was in using Google+ to transform users' experience with the company and its litany of products.

"Our ultimate ambition is to transform the overall Google experience, making it beautifully simple, almost automagical, because we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly," Page said during a Google earnings call with analysts and press. "This means baking identity and sharing into all of our products so that we build a real relationship with our users. Sharing on the Web will be like sharing in real life across all your stuff."

He added that building Google+, or pieces of it, into other Google services should give users more relevant search results and ads.

"Think about it this way," Page said back then. "Last quarter, we shipped the Plus; now we're going to ship the Google part."

And that's what the company did Wednesday in front of a keynote audience of hundreds of international press and 6,000 developers.

For instance, Google showed updated Maps that not only shows users where they are, or where they're going, but what restaurant their friends have tried in that neighborhood or what sites they or their friends have liked in the past.

"That's just a subtle way of making Maps super social," Blau said. "That Maps experience is a whole lot better when you integrate it with your life. Who do you know has been here? Have you been here before? Where is the party your friends are going to?"

It's much the same with search.

During the keynote, executives talked about the future of Google Search, where the search service offers information, based on your personal history, before you even ask for it. Search, they said, will serve you better when it knows you better.

This has been Page's plan.

"Suggestions based upon what friend and colleagues like is the most effective recommendations for categories like restaurants and movies," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "This requires tight integration between Google+, profiles, Search and Maps."

This social integration is likely to continue, added Moorhead.

"Google will ultimately provide deep social integration of every current and future service," he said. "A more social Google TV, shopping and music experience should be expected."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said Google definitely is weaving its social strategy into its products. The question is how users will feel about that.

"It is as yet unclear whether you'll accept all this social advice," said Enderle. "They have a massive amount of information on their customers... They are going to try to know more about you than you do. As a result, folks could find this more creepy than helpful, particularly when it comes to kids."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "Google weaves Larry Page's social strategy into Maps, Search" was originally published by Computerworld.

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