August 10, 2017
Google’s looking to move in on Facebook’s turf. Again.
Their new “friendless feed” isn’t another direct attempt at social networking like we saw with Google Plus. It is, however, Google’s latest effort in engaging users in the kind of reflexive scrolling of the infinite newsfeed that’s made Facebook a successful monopolizer of our spare minutes.
The app’s feed provides you with personalized news combined with topics that you were previously interested in. That means no more pictures of kittens or babies when you’re really only interested in dogs, and much more of the niche, targeted information you seek out on Google every single day in your personal and professional life.
What it means for brands
With Google dialing back the organic real estate available to brands, this new venue is an opportunity to gain repeated visibility. Anyone who searched a brand a couple of times could see more from this brand in their feed, if the brand regularly publishes interesting news or gives the media good reason to write about them.
This should entice brands and organizations to have their PR and SEO departments collaborate more closely. If they haven’t yet, they’ill discover that these two disciplines can tremendously benefit from each other’s expertise, which will go much beyond any gains in Google’s feed.
Brands might also be well advised to invest in Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), if they haven’t done so already. AMP articles are denoted in the feed by the familiar lightning bolt icon and it’s safe to assume that Google is giving them preferential treatment in terms of feed visibility, since the company wants this technology to succeed. Most news publishers have already implemented AMP and brands could be at a disadvantage if they wait too long.
What it means for Google
If you’re looking for proof that Google’s place on your smartphone can go beyond search utility, the evidence so far is mixed. The lingering death of Google Plus isn’t an encouraging sign, but the fact that YouTube is already the social channel where people spend the most time bodes well.
And though the rollout of the news feed to Android has been rocky (and a reminder: Google owns Android), so far so good on iPhone. The big question, as Nelson Grenados, Professor of Information Systems at Pepperdine argues, is whether the market exists for another passive news feed – and the fact that our inputs to Google are so different to our inputs to Facebook could be a good sign.
What it means for the world
If widely adopted, it’s not hard to see the social downside of this move. Without any inputs aside from your own interests and biases, the Google feed has the potential to take social filter bubbles to a new extreme. It’s increasingly important to not narrow but to widen our horizon. It doesn’t hurt to hear the opinion of people on the other side of the political spectrum or to see what your friends find interesting, from car racing to preserving bumble bees. Would you ever seek out this information yourself? No, of course not. And based on your previous searches, neither will Google.
On the other hand, Google has taken “fake news” more seriously than Facebook has. And while Facebook, Reddit and Twitter and are social platforms with social inputs, our relationship with Google is 1-to-1. Google is where we explore our most niche interests and curiosities, which gives the platform more potential to expand our knowledge, if not our horizons.