Facebook, especially with the launch of Graph Search, is ingeniously venturing into Google’s home turf. Even though Mark Zuckerberg has artfully dodged its intention to search the web for now, the signs of the Facebook cat purring besides Google’s lap ready to scratch are far too clear.
Facebook calls it the “Graph Search”, but behind the curtains of subtlety, it has unleashed an era of the elusive but revolutionary “Decision Engines”. Of course we will still rely on Google to find an awesome Italian restaurant in the city of Chicago, but in another tab we will quietly open Facebook’s Graph Search to superimpose Google’s results with answers from “Restaurants in Chicago my Italian friends like”. Making sound decisions is going to get far simpler in years and decades to come. So the next time you make a crappy one, the web will be in your face screaming “I told you so!”
With a billion users, a trillion connections and unidirectional maturing of technology, the tilt transition from Google to Facebook search is a no-brainer. So it was baffling to watch Facebook’s stock plummet 2% on the announcement. But then we all know how many times Wall Street hits the bull’s eye or even the bull’s head for crying out loud.
The bigger question is what can Google do to match Facebook’s growing stature and ambitions? As with everything else, Facebook has an Achilles’s heel, its own Kryptonite that might prevent it from swallowing the web universe. Without being too stereotypical, we have limitations on the number and diversity of friends we can make. With the current state of privacy concerns and the resulting Facebook privacy settings, this significantly confines the true benefit of Facebook Graph Search. However, given the evolution of status quo of humans, laws, regulations and everything in between, this will continue to be less of a challenge. And Facebook will certainly evolve to help us harness the abstracted collective information while still being able to limit our exposure to targeted individual queries from outside our primary connections.
But all this makes me wonder if there can be alternate model, a model where “web content” takes the center stage while “user content” retreats from the limelight onto the back stage? A model which offers a powerful mechanism to explore and discover content, harnessing anonymised collective information of social affiliations, to create a granddaddy of a decision engine … right here … right now.
I believe the answer is YES! I would like to call the hypothetical solution “Google-Dash” (ingeniously arrived by replacing Google “+” with a “-“ :)
Here it goes…
The Facebook model stands on two main pillars …
- Users, our Personal Data & our Connections.
- External Data (think about all the places, pages, things and more) and our affiliations with them (most notably our “likes”).
Between the two, there is enough critical mass to make Facebook ridiculously popular while making some people very very wealthy.
A “Google-Dash” solution would flip Facebook model inside-out and put structured data including web content right at the center. Wrap a social fabric around it and we have an anti-Facebook if you will, which unlike in particle physics, would hopefully co-exist with Facebook without the annihilation (or may be not … what do you think about FaceGoog?)
Since i have been told a picture speaks a thousand words, here is the recipe.
Quite magically, most ingredients are right in Google’s backyard! So let’s look at them one by one …
Freebase –Acquired by Google in 2010, it is a sprawling structured graph database harvested from many sources and forms the backbone of Google’s Knowledge Graph. The sheer depth and breadth of the database renders it an obvious candidate to form the core of the Google-Dash model. Moreover, it being a user modifiable database, it already has a social fabric baked in.
Unfortunately its framework seems crafted by the geeks for the geeks and in its current state makes it an ugly duckling sitting in a corner of the cyberspace for most amongst us. If Freebase can be face lifted to provide an intuitive interface for data definition, contribution, collaboration, exploration and most importantly social affiliation, it can well posed to be a decision engine we can all benefit from and possibly provide an alternate universe to Facebook.
Wikidata – “A collaboratively edited knowledge base” from the founders of Wikipedia and funded in part by Google is taking baby steps as we read. It could potentially transform Wikipedia from being a collaborative blob to being a structured warehouse of content and relationships which users can query and explore. Definitely a prime ingredient to build upon Google’s existing Knowledge Graph.
However, Wikidata has a demo page that is insanely limited to draw any meaningful conclusions and Freebase with its Schema and gazillion Property definitions leaves a lot to be desired as a mass appealing core of a social framework.
(Since I have also been told a demo speaks more than a million words, I have a small but functional prototype of what I believe is an incrementally intuitive interface for data definition and collaboration. Will unveil it in an upcoming post!)
Google+ – Google infamous social networking shot at dethroning Facebook would nonetheless be a critical ingredient to provide the social layer riding the “Content” core. Rather than imitating Facebook, it should transform into an “Identity Management System”, allowing us the ability to take on a digital avatar. Drawing out the fear of littering the web with our social affiliations bearing “true identities”could usher the next revolution on how we amalgamate within the web. Google 2011 announcement at the Web 2.0 Summit supporting this intention is a step in the right direction and could turn out to be an important facet of Web 3.0. This philosophy and its implications transcend ability to make decisions based on just friends and friends-of-friends and deserve an article in itself.
Facebook’s insistence on sticking with true identities through and through and the privacy restrictions it entails might well be the reason for its stagnation or decline in the years to come.
All of the above along with dominance in Web, Media, Geo, Home & Office products makes Google well positioned to pull off“Google-Dash”. So when it happens, the next time you want to find an Italian Restaurant, you just might have to choose a “Decision Engine” that tells what’s best for “YOU”!
- Amit Kolambekar