Had you asked me 3 months ago who would buy Skype, I would have said, “probably Google, maybe Microsoft, with an outside chance of Facebook or Apple grabbing it.” Invoking the “big 4″ in any question that starts with “Who will buy….” is not a spark of genius. It’s low-hanging fruit to pick the four big movers and shakers in the tech world as likely buyers when talking about billions of dollars.
The announcement that Microsoft bought Skype was a mild surprise, but now it makes sense. Google didn’t need the technology. They could have used the people (who couldn’t in Silicon Valley?) but it wasn’t worth the billions to them that it’s worth to Microsoft.
The Google+ Hangout feature is being billed as a way for friends to get together quickly and easily without prompting. A friendly flash-mob online, so to speak. The business applications are clear, but there’s a reason why it’s not being discussed, nor will it be discussed by Google for a long time (we’ll get to that later).
For now, we’ll simply note that it’s a feature that in itself has the opportunity to prompt users to get more of their friends and family going on Google+. Many will say, “but I can post pictures and videos on Facebook” when their friends and family tell them to join Google+. Hangout is something that Facebook simply doesn’t offer (yet).
Make no mistake. Google knows how to make money. They may have only been truly successful at making money through Adwords, but they’ve made over $100 billion dollars off the ad platform over the years. Unfortunately, its days are numbered (in its current form) and Google knows it.
Sparks is secretly part of the solution. There is no indication and (oddly) very little speculation that the interest-delivery-engine that Google has integrated into Google+ will be a revenue source in the long run, but it will. Once the mass-adoption has occurred and people are lured into using this aspect of the service, ads will be sold on it. Quite frankly, it’s too wonderful of a concept to not monetize.
First, check out their introduction video:
Now that you understand the concept, your first question is, “Why would I use something like that? Why wouldn’t I just search for things that interest me when I’m ready to find them?”
Those who use StumbleUpon already know the answer to that. Eventually, millions of others will understand as well. The mass of understanding of what’s happening on the internet that Google possesses allows Sparks the ability to be a truly useful diversion on demand whenever and wherever we go there. It helps to eliminate the dying RSS feed, helps to expand on the news-aspect that Twitter has pushed along, and brings discovery to the forefront.
Most importantly, it’s active and allows us to be passive. It is working all the time and will help those who master it (just as StumbleUpon masters have learned) to receive new resources, explore our current interests, and expand or contract our scope to whatever degree we want. The world is moving way too fast to rely on active exploration. Having Spark makes exploration of the world around us faster, easier, and much more efficient.
It represents the easiest way for Google to truly create a stream of revenue that they’ve yet to find in social media. From an advertiser’s perspective, it’s beautiful. Imagine being able to target specific interests that go beyond active searching. Expose your brand, products, and services to people who are looking for what you have but don’t necessarily know they’re looking for it.
From a consumer’s perspective, it can be equally amazing. One thing about sites like Groupon and LivingSocial is that the daily deals are often driven more by a small sampling of advertisers rather than through our own interests. Google was interested in Groupon and there are reasons for that. Sparks is one of them.
Focus and Failure
The past failures of Google’s attempts at social media have been well chronicled. Google Wave (pictured above) was a convoluted mess with limited uses and even less understanding of what we want in a social tool.
The buzz and hype surrounding Google+ may not be earth-shaking yet, but it’s moving in a positive direction. We get it. As XKCD puts it, it’s not Facebook, but it’s like Facebook. As bad as that sounds on the surface, in reality it’s exactly what we’ve wanted from them.
Perhaps more importantly, this isn’t a toe-dipping exercise the way every other Google social attempt has been. CEO Larry Page has clearly stated that their focus is 100% on social media. They have failed miserably too many times to count and it’s not going to happen again, not on his watch.
Failure does that to companies. In hopes of not drawing too much criticism for making the connection, Apple was a failing company that brought back an old leader with a new direction that was greeted with skepticism in a way that most in the 90s thought the company would surely fall apart. That hasn’t happened.
Google has failed in the past, but they are finally focused. That alone should be enough to make Google+ successful, but the most important reason they will succeed and the only reason why they may fail still need to be discussed.