Google is apparently poised to launch its own third-party Net commenting platform in direct response to Facebook, which is increasingly being used as a commenting gateway on many sites. Meanwhile it's also moved to better promote its new consolidated app store "Play" and tie it to its social network Google+. Taken together, those don't look like the actions of a company that's centered on searching the Net and selling ads against such searches.
Several upcoming new features for Google were discussed at G-Saudi Arabia recently, according to the Tech-WD blog. Perhaps chief among these was the new commenting platform. It's thought that the platform will link deeply into Google's complex offering of online services—probably tapping search somewhere—and be linked to its Google+ social network. Google's also placing more emphasis on the rest of its stable of products by placing Play, its new aggregated app store "anti-iTunes" affair, into its new black top-bar on its webpages. That means Play is exposed to users if they're using Android devices or any one of Google's many web products.
Another thing Google's said to be about to do, according to the same rumor, is roll out vanity URLs for Google+. This makes sense, given the increasing use of social networks as primary points of contact for netizens, is a move on from Google's initial mistake over Google+ handles, and marries up with the moves made by other social networks.
Like Facebook. In fact all these tiny changes and big plans are largely about Facebook. Facebook is making itself felt everywhere online with an explosion of "likes" on websites and increasing use of Facebook as a third-party commenting system. As a commenting gateway Facebook offers a couple of benefits: It means users don't necessarily have to set up a new profile on every blog they want to comment on, the log-in process is a bit simpler (both of which lower barriers to actually commenting) and because commenters are positively identified by their Facebook profile you may hope there's less trolling and more responsible commenting.
Google is obviously keen to inject itself into this marketspace, and technically speaking you could suggest Google+ is a better system for web comments than Facebook, because while it's an ancillary use of Facebook's systems, Google+'s core design is about threaded "discussions" on + posts. A search component to +-based web comments would allow Google to index comments in its search results, and that could make it very powerful indeed. It could also, inevitably, allow Google to collect more data on its users' habits and preferences in order to serve them up better adverts (it's not too extreme to speculate that Google may even inject tiny ads into online comments), and that's something that'll be easier now Google's controversially collated all its user profiles.
But apart from seeing a commenting market opportunity that's ripe for Google-ification, if you remember that Google's also promoting Play as a sort-of rival to iTunes and is ever-more threading the social networking powers of Google+ into its many services, then a bigger picture emerges. Google is perhaps conscious that search may not be its core business in the medium term. By core business we mean "main vehicle for serving up advertising," of course, because that's really what Google's all about...but you can see our point.
After all, there's a growing move to divert web searches away from Google's clutches, largely led by Apple. Its Siri system is the most obvious candidate here because it selects where to divert search queries based on context, and new data suggests that among the tens of millions of new iPhone 4S users Siri is actually pretty damn popular. Apple's also said to be partnering with Baidu in China for iOS searches...another smallish blow to Google.
Plus search is ever more controversial. A Japanese court is commanding Google dismantle all of Instant because of the unfortunate way it affected one man's employment prospects by suggesting crime-related results alongisde his name. U.K. Members of Parliament are pushing to require Google to censor search results in the U.K., in what seems to be a free-speech-quashing attempt to suppress leaks and celebrity gossip.
We're not suggesting Google is about to dismantle its search apparatus. Google is actually trying to boost its search powers, showing it's keen to invest in its signature business (although you could argue "semantic search" may be best suited to searching among web comments, which tend to be emotive and personal). But what seems to be happening here is that Google's aware the cutting edge of tech is moving away from Google search. That in turn means mainstream tech and everyday users will, perhaps in a handful of years, not use Google's search powers as much. Senstive to this, Google's building a web of social network-centric services that'll catch users' traffic anyway...all so it can deliver tiny, hyper-targeted web adverts to us all at every opportunity.
[Image: Flickr user albertopveiga ]