I first wrote of the Volunia search engine in this blog post in early December of last year. At that time I had applied to be a ‘power user’ or early adopter, when the search engine released in beta. They began slowly rolling out logins last week, and I received one. As an Indianapolis SEO I like to stay abreast of trends in search, so I gave it a try.
Volunia does offer three interesting features. The first feature is an overview sitemap of each website. This is probably the most distinctive feature. It creates a bird’s eye view that looks like something out of Farmville. Interesting, but I don’t really see the usefulness on this one. The second feature is a multimedia search within a site. This one seems a little more useful and interesting. The third, the social layer, seems to be the real distinguishing feature. When you go to a website via a search in Volunia, besides just displaying the web page it displays associated comments from Volunia users in s a panel on the right. This is adding a social component to web browsing, but from a whole different angle than what Google is trying to do with Search Plus Your World. It is adding social media to the search experience as a layer on top of web pages. It is trying to socialize the web browsing experience, using the search engine as the social media.
How this differs from Google’s approach to socializing search is the really interesting thing here. It also raised a question in my mind about Google’s motivation for pushing Search Plus Your World when they did. The creator of Volunia, Massiomo Marchiori, was once, by their own admission, a mentoring influence on Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Did his work in socializing search and the impending release of Volunia drive Google’s plan to introduce socialized search? They have radically different approaches, but both are conceptually trying to add a social component to the search experience. Google’s approach is to use Google+ as a signal in returning web pages. Volunia adds a layer for a dialog between users about the web page.
RockMelt Social Media Web Browser
Volunia’s approach is more similar to another browser now in public Beta called Rock Melt. RockMelt is a ‘social media web browser’ that you log into through Facebook or Twitter account. It has a similar interface to Volunia in that it adds asocial media layer where discussions about web pages can happen. RockMelt is funded by Netscape founder Marc Andreesen.
The release of Volunia, beta testing of RockMelt, and Google’s attempts to make Google+ tightly integrated with search have finally made me see the light. Integrating social media into the search experience seems like a natural next step. When you search for something, sometimes it would be nice to know if anyone you had friended on social media had anything to say about the web sites the search engine returns. It’s the implementation that could really make or break it though. Google’s heavy handed approach to force Google+ on us, and then use Google+as a signal in manipulating the search results seems to be a little much. Volunia has a nice approach, in that comments from Volunia users are layered over the web page on the right. The problem now is that those comments are not really friends comments, but the comments of all Volunia Users. Rock Melt’s integration with Facebook and Twitter friends gives you a glimpse of what Google could do to socialize search if they integrated with Facebook and Twitter. It also shows how socializing search should mean adding a transparent social element to searching. Google is instead is stubbornly trying to use Social Search to prop up their weak social media offering, Google+.
If you have an online presence, you need to be concerned about better search engine rankings, and all of the current trends in search. Social search, in one incarnation or another is here to stay. How It shakes out, I believe, is yet to be determined. Volunia and RockMelt are probably not Google killers. Google could however take a lesson in truly socializing search from them. Socialized search should first and foremost enhance the searchers experience. A secondary goal should be better ability to target the searcher for advertising revenue generation. Google currently may have those priorities backward.
Facebook’s S-1 filing to IPO gives a little insight into their business model, plans for growth, and the quandary that both Facebook and Google face.
The business model has, on the surface, seemed fairly simple. As discussed in this FastCompany article ‘What is Facebooks Business?’, the main strategy is to create a place where people want to hangout, upload content, update their status, and exchange messages. Targeted ads placed next to that content accounted for $3.2 billion of the $3.7 billion that Google generated last year. Third party apps (mostly Zynga) brought in the other $500 million.
The plans for growth are really limited to three options. To approach the $100 Billion valuation of the IPO they will have to bring in more people, serve more ads, or raise the price of those ads. In all likelihood they will attempt to do all three of those things. With 845 million users and China off limits, increasing the number of users is not a sustainable long term strategy, since there are only 7 billion people on the planet. So they will need to focus on improving the service to increase the time users spend on Facebook, so that they are able to push more ads, while at the same time collecting as much information from you to better target the ads, thus creating a better conversion rate, and the ability to charge more for those ads. Luring users in with features they enjoy, while at the same time enticing them to give up more personal information is really the strategy they must employ. The recent Timeline feature is a perfect example of this strategy. A tool that essentially attempts to extract as much information from you about your life history is packaged as a ‘feature’ that allows you to tell your life story. Will users buy this? And for how long?
The quandary that both Facebook and Google face is a delicate balancing act between keeping users and advertisers happy. They both seem to be in a race to extract as much information from their users, so that the profiles they can build for their advertisers assure better targeting, and ultimately better conversion rates for the advertising. The real trick is to keep both groups happy simultaneously.
What does this mean for the small business owner who has an online presence to worry about? The advice for any of my Indianapolis SEO and Online Presence Management clients would be that there are amazing opportunities for search engine internet marketing. Google Adwords allows you to purchase ad placement in front of people who are already looking for you. Although not as effective as organic SEO for conversion, it is the quickest route in the short term to Google front page placement for your business. For long term success, organic SEO can achieve first page rankings that will have higher conversion rates than Pay-Per-Click. In the even longer term, it is important to keep abreast of trends such as the current privacy issues that users seem to be having more frequently. As Google and Facebook both continue the delicate balancing act between keeping users and advertisers happy, you need to know whose stock is rising and falling with users, and manage your online presence accordingly.