Pinterest as Google+’s New Target
If it’s not abundantly clear already, Pinterest is emerging a much more clear competitive frame for understanding the future of Google+. It’s an over-simplification, as there are significant difference, but it’s still a useful one.
A Newly Emerging Google Plus Strategy
The catalyst for this post were some thoughts from Bradley Horowitz just a couple hours ago:
“Relieved of the notion of integrating with every other product at Google, Google+ can now focus on doing what it’s already doing quite well: helping millions of users around the world connect around the interest they love. Aspects of the product that don’t serve this agenda have been, or will be, retired. But you’ll also see a slew of improvements that make this use case shine.”
Connecting people around “interests they love” is another way of saying connecting people through an “interest graph.” The battle for the social graph is pretty much over, and Facebook clearly won. Google’s new strategy is a clear acknowledgement of this and an indication that it sees the battle for the interest graph as: a) important and b) far from decided.
So, why is the interest graph so important, you ask?
Supporting the Knowledge Graph
Google is making a huge bet on its Knowledge Graph, as a central strategy for maintaining the technological superiority of its search engine. In fact, you could say that this service is actually in the midst of transforming from a search engine to a knowledge engine. Google Now is the visible end of this wedge, a wedge which will soon emerge as a Virtual Personal Assistant, and eventually as a much more powerful artificial intelligence agent.
Understanding which people care about and have influence on particular topics will be one of the very valuable products of deepening Google+ investments in the interest graph. That, in turn, will strengthen the company’s ability to execute on its Knowledge Graph strategy.
The Bigger Battle with Amazon
In the big picture, the real competitive battle that Google faces as a company – is with Amazon. People were recently asked their top three places for researching gift purchases in the holiday season. “Online search” registered 45%, down from 49% a year ago. Meantime, the channel growing the most in popularity was the one that includes Amazon, jumping to 37% from 31%.
The Google-Amazon battle is actually a battle of business models, with Google running an advertising strategy and Amazon a commerce strategy. Sure, there are exceptions, and the lines can get very blurry with things like “buy now” button ads, but by and large, that is how the competition is falling out. When you think about it, the searches that Amazon is increasingly winning from Google are searches that are most closely tied to actual sales. They are, in other words, some of the most lucrative advertising that Google has.
Going back to the interest graph, perhaps more than any other company in the world, Amazon has a very detailed and extremely valuable mapping of the products and services you care about. It has, in short, a very lucrative interest graph, deeply embedded into its commerce business model.
As noted above, monetization isn’t the only reason that Google is building its interest graph. That said, it will be monetizing its interest graph, and it will be doing that through an advertising strategy – not primarily a commerce strategy like Amazon’s.
The Pinterest Opportunity
Pinterest was founded in 2010, one of many startups launched around that timeframe based on the premise of the interest graph. The rest have long-since failed, but Pinterest is now valued at $11 billion and its revenue generating potential is just starting to build steam.
Pinterest’s monetization efforts around things like “buy now” buttons are generating lots of intrigue, but I believe the company represents something more than that. They are a kind of fusion between online advertising and a retail environment. Pinterest’s CEO Ben Silbermann likes to differentiate Pinterest from Google by noting that the service is about “discovery,” not “search.” People like to browse collections in Pinterest, to become inspired, to have their interests piqued, to discover stuff through seeming serendipity that they weren’t specifically seeking in the first place. In other words, there’s a kind of grazing, browsing behavior on Pinterest that does sort of feel like a retail store.
In other words, Pinterest, with its strength in discovery, falls someplace in between the Amazon and Google commerce and advertising strategies. Just as importantly, behind the scenes, Pinterest is building an interest graph, tied to commercially valuable topics. And unlike Amazon, they’re not integrating this interest graph with the core competencies of warehousing, returns, fulfillment and other aspects of a commerce company. In short, they’re building the kind of interest graph that’s of interest to an advertising giant; an interest graph chock-full with all kinds of insights into what end users care most about.
Just to be clear: I’m not saying that Google+ will or should suddenly start looking and behaving like Pinterest. Despite the new Collections feature, Google+ is a very different beast. I would be very surprised if we woke up one day to find “buy it now” buttons showing up on Google+. And I don’t even think that we’ll be seeing many collections of “my favorite lipsticks” or “my favorite dresses” – the kinds of collections that are very common and natural on Pinterest.
That just isn’t the culture here on Google+. No, I don’t see Google attempting to replicate the kind of “retail” environment strategy that Pinterest seems to be headed towards. The management here is smart enough to recognize the culture differences between G+ and Pinterest. Although now that Google+ is freed from its broader corporate mandates, which I think helped it take a pass on revenue-generating expectations, I will go on record here saying that I would not be at all surprised to find Google reversing its policy of ‘no ads’ here on Google+ – possibly within the next year or two.
What I do see quite clearly is Google moving down a path where Google+ becomes a more powerful addition to its interest graph building capacity. Search is already a very powerful tool for tracking end user interests over time. What it’s missing is the ability to note interest in a more passive browsing mode. This is the discovery mode that Pinterest makes so much of, and it maps nicely to the streams, photos and sharing that now describes the team that will be remaking Google+.
Bradley Horowitz post on Google+ changes:
Pinterest CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann, talking about Pinterest’s strategy and the central importance of the interest graph:
The Interest Graph Maps Our Connections to Ideas and Things
Google’s Biggest Competitor…is Amazon
What is Google+ (Really)?
#sharedinterestgraph #pinterest #amazon #googleplus