Rumors have been swirling for ages that Google is secretly building their own social networking service. Even before that Tweet from Digg's Kevin Rose got tongues wagging, many industry insiders had long suspected Google was looking to get more social.
And their recent behavior sure points in that direction. For starters, they own Orkut, Brazil's number one social network. In recent months and years they've rolled out products and services that are, at their core, social in nature, such as Buzz and Wave (wave is now dead, as of last week). YouTube and Blogger have gotten progressively more social in nature. Heck, even products like Gmail or Google Docs (on the cloud) are inherently about sharing and being social. Is a socially-focused Google really a new concept?
Just Friday they announced the acquisition of Slide, a "social technology company with an extensive history of building new ways for people to connect with others across numerous platforms online.”
I'm not here to speculate on whether or not Google is definitely rolling out a social network. It seems likely, considering all the recent signs. I'm also not here to talk about whether or not a social network from Google will succeed—and there are plenty who think they will not, as their recent track record in social products is less than stellar.
What I am here to talk about is why you should definitely care about Google getting more social, and why you should be paying attention.
I generally presume that most of our readers have some interest in online video, and in getting that video found by potential viewers online. And if that's the case with you, then here's the rub: viral marketing online is all about one thing and one thing only... sharing.
Nothing goes viral that isn't shared between people. Shared over email, shared over instant message or Skype, shared in personal conversation, shared on a blog, shared over Twitter, or on Facebook, or on Digg. After web searches and random browsing, sharing is really the only way people ever find out about new videos. Someone passes it to them after enjoying it first. If the new viewer enjoys it, he or she passes it on themselves. So on and so forth until viral domination is reached.
Google already controls a lot of the means people use to find your videos. They own search, with a consistent 70%+ market share (an astounding 98.29% for mobile devices). If your video is found by people performing keyword searches, there's a very good chance they found you through Google.
They also own video, by virtue of being YouTube's sugar daddy, and hold a 43% market share in that field—the next closest competitor in market share is Hulu, at around 3%, meaning there is no real competitor here. So if your video is not self-hosted, there's a very good chance it's hosted by YouTube. If people are randomly browsing videos to find new content, it's extremely likely that they're doing so on YouTube.
And Google already powers a lot of the ways people share videos with each other—blog posts on Blogger, links sent via Gmail or Gtalk, news media articles and mentions via Google News, and so on. Let's not act like Google isn't already heavily invested in social technology. It's not a stretch to suggest they might build a Facebook competitor—heck, putting all the varied Google services together in one lump almost resembles a Facebook competitor already.
And if they do officially wade into the "social networking" market, don't be too quick to dismiss their efforts. Yes, Facebook is huge, but it's not untouchable. Yes, Google Wave was a flop—but it was a flop for very clear reasons. People didn't understand it. But a new social networking site? People will definitely understand what that means.
You are already indebted to Google for a lot of the traffic and exposure your videos receive. And if Google does roll out a Facebook-style social site, you can believe they'll do it with guns blazing—meaning a huge promotional launch and lots of publicity and exposure. Google will not wade into the social market… they'll cannonball into it.
Maybe you'll care because you're already wary of Facebook's privacy stance. Maybe you'll care because you don't think Google is any better with privacy issues. Maybe you'll care because you don't want all your online-success eggs in one Google basket.
But you'll almost certainly care—or, at least, you should. A Google-owned social network would put their fingers in just about every aspect of the online video industry, from hosting and editing to search to marketing and sharing. In the end, most of us on this blog just want to help our videos find an audience, right?
Will it make us nervous to be so reliant on Google for our success? Sure. But we're already overly reliant on them, aren't we? If Google disbanded, and shut down everything tomorrow… most of the online video industry would curl up into a fetal position and start sobbing. Relying on Google is nothing new. If Google entering the social space can help us connect to more prospective viewers, we'll embrace it. We can't afford not to.