In my feed reader just now I noticed a brief mention by John Battelle: Paid Links, Selling Links… Not Good. When you click through to the article and to the Google help page – and remembering the commotion a couple of weeks ago about some complaints that people’s Page Rank had suddenly dropped – a very encouraging pattern is starting to emerge.
Google has always taken the soundness of their systems very seriously, but I don’t think it’s coincidental that Google seems to be addressing some of the issues surrounding paid links and the like more seriously now that Facebook has made some aggressive strides into the advertising world. I think someone at Google realizes that alongside and within its ranking and presentation via search of the whole web, they also – without Orkut or OpenSocial or anything else – already have a “social graph” embedded in their databases – and one that has already proven to be more valuable than closed social networks’ social graphs.
The initial promise and reality of blogrolls (say, pre-2003), after all, was that they served as a way to declare, publicly, that such-and-such a blogger was someone you either knew or respected personally. That is the social graph right there, and Google’s always had it. The best part? There was a cost to adding someone to your blogroll (time, dilution, etc.), which served (somewhat) to pare down those lists and make them more accurate representations of bloggers’ personal preference.
The important thing about the social graph is that to be valid and useful as a commercial endeavour, connections must accurately reflect a person’s authentic relationship, whether that be with a friend, an issue-related BOF, a colleague, or anyone else. To date this has been the strength of Facebook – they made it easy for people to add friends, but through the News Feed (among other things) added a cost to doing so – which has (so far) tended to “purify” people’s contact lists in a way that MySpace’s and others’ lists never were.
Facebook is winning (by some measures) because users’ networks more closely resemble real-life relationships – Facebook isn’t, by-and-large, a friend-adding contest. Anything Google can do to ensure their results are accurate and reflect authentic relationships is likely as important in the long run as anything they do with OpenSocial. (Now if only they would do something about all of the spam blogs on Blogger).