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Google, Facebook go beyond social, beyond identity

Mike Elgan | Aug. 12, 2014
Besides, is it really 'identity' if they don't really care who you are?

Google gets on board
At some point, Google got on board with the new strategy, too, gobbling up conspicuously non-social apps to be plugged into the contextual advertising Borg. They acquired the smart thermostat and smoke alarm company Nest for $3.24 billion (and since that acquisition, Nest bought the Dropcam cloud-based home security camera company), the mapping app Waze and, most recently, Emu, a messaging app with Google Now like smart assistant features.

(Note that the thermostats, smoke detectors and cameras aren't apps, they're controlled by apps that can harvest personal information of value to advertisers.)

The new strategy for monetizing social and mobile explains all the uncharacteristic behavior that both companies have been engaging in lately. For example, Facebook is not only buying apps, they're spinning apps out of its core product. For example, first Messenger was a chat feature in the Facebook app. Then it was also an optional separate app. And as of this week, the Messenger feature was removed from the main Facebook app. If you want to use Messenger, you have to use the app.

I don't think it has occurred to most analysts, columnists and other observers that Facebook can expand this strategy to ridiculous extremes. For example, within a year or two, Facebook could create, spin out or buy a hundred or two hundred apps, including game apps. All these apps could harvest personal data, and all could serve ads through Facebook's mobile ad network.

It also explains Google's sudden change of heart about Google+. The company is clearly less uptight about the social network. They've let go of the real names rule, for example. And there are solid rumors that they'll spin out their magic photo tools -- just like Facebook spun out Messenger. They realize that it's no longer necessary to cram everything into a single site. It's OK to let people roam free, as long as they roam via Google apps on mobile devices that can both harvest personal data and serve relevant advertising.

While neither company is going to give up its garden, walled or otherwise, and Google isn't going to give up it's "social layer," the fact is that social is taking a back seat to other behaviors that generate signals useful for the future of contextual advertising.


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