Next Generation Social Networks and Search

By Notess, Greg R. | Online, May-June 2012 | Go to article overview

Next Generation Social Networks and Search


Notess, Greg R., Online


Social networking is big business. Valuations put on companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as they go public--all in the billions of dollars--confirm this. Facebook's domination of the social networking space is inspiring competitors. Google launched and is heavily promoting Google+, while image-based social networks Tumblr and Pinterest have seen tremendous growth in the past year. Each of these has unique characteristics, demographics, and search challenges.

GOOGLE+

A major marketing effort supports Google's latest foray into social networking (how often have there been television commercials for any Google product in the past?). Social networking has also prompted changes to much of Google's site as it tries to combine popular elements from other social sites and make certain actions even easier. The Google+ homepage (https://plus.google.com) includes a stream of stories and shared links from friends and a few general featured posts. Other sections include Photos, Profile, Circles, Games, and Hangouts.

Circles, often featured in the TV ads, make it much easier to organize contacts into groups than do Facebook's friends lists. The Hangouts let groups communicate via webcams. The associated +1 buttons let users like any page they can find in a Google search or that displays a +1 badge. Organizations can create pages within Google+. While you can find all or most of these features elsewhere, for frequent Google users, it can be convenient to have it all from a single company.

Although Google+ is growing, it is nowhere near as ubiquitous as Facebook. That makes it more difficult to find all the people you may wish to include. On the other hand, some users prefer the smaller community on Google+ or find that it makes it easier to segregate one social group on Google+ from a different group on Facebook. Perhaps family are on Facebook with online friends on Google+, or school friends are on Google+ and professional contacts on LinkedIn.

While some report that Google+ consists primarily of early adopters and those involved in exploring new technologies, the combination of search, Gmail, Google Docs, and the social network creates a significant growth opportunity. At the same time, as Google offers more products and an ever-increasing number of opportunities to gather data on its users, concerns about giving too much information to Google are growing. A new privacy policy launched in March 2012 specifies how Google will use its collected data across products to build user profiles. Enough concerns have been raised that the attorneys general from more than 30 U.S. states objected to the changes. Such concerns have also led to promises of the introduction of a Don't Track button in Chrome.

TUMBLR

Tumblr (www.tumblr.com) has been around for years, primarily as an alternative blogging platform. Tumblr blogs are very customizable, like blogs on WordPress or Blogger, but they often focus on the sharing and following of images and video content. In the past year, its use has skyrocketed. In comScore, Inc.'s "2012 U.S. Digital Future in Focus" report (www.snipr.com/12digfuture), Tumblr ranked second, behind Facebook, for the average minutes per visitor spent on the site. This type of viewer engagement is attracting significant attention and continued growth. In one completely nonscientific and microregionalized view--that of the local high school newspaper in my hometown of Bozeman, Mont.--on the "hot or not" list, Tumblr is now hot and Flickr is not. This kind of impression occurs even when on some Tumblr photo blogs, much of the content originates from Flickr. And even though Tumblr has been available since 2007, its recent growth is making it appear to be much newer and much hipper than Flickr (which dates all the way from 2004).

As Tumblr grows and moves into new demographics (the 18-24 age group is especially active in fueling Tumblr's growth), the challenge that comScore foresees is whether it can "push its U. …

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