Google’s synchronicity

On the latest This Week in Google, we talked about many of Google’s product announcements and enhancements and though none on its own was earthshattering, as we added them up, I started to see synchronicity approaching — all the moreso last night when TechCrunch reported that Google’s negotiating to buy Yelp.

I see a strategy emerging that has Google profoundly improve search by better anticipating our intent and then moving past search to build hegemony in local and mobile (which will come to mean the same thing).

Add up Google’s recent moves in local/mobile:

* Yelp would bring Google a scalable platform to get information and reviews about every local business using community. Yelp enhances Google’s place pages. Place pages enhance Google Maps. Google Maps are our pathway to local information on what we still mobile phones but will soon see as our constant connectivity devices.

* Google distributed 190,000 QR codes for local businesses to paste on their front windows. Take a picture of it and Google will give you information about the place (see: above). Businesses have another reason to advertise on and be found through Google and its business center.

* TechCrunch also speculates that we could use these QR codes to check in to Foursquare, Gowalla, et al. Local is social.

* Google Goggles goes the next step and lets you take a picture of a place — or object (or soon, person) — and use that as a search request to get local information — or leave it.

Thus Google becomes a doorway to the annotated world. Everyplace has information swirling around it; Google organizes it and motivates and enables us to create more information for it to organize (more on this idea of the annotated world in another post).

* Google’s reported phone is said to have a “weirdly large camera.” If that camera becomes a key to visual search, that makes sense, eh? That also gives us a better way to take more geo-tagged photos, which better annotates the world and gives Google more information to serve back to us.

* Google is trying to get better at recognizing speech to prepare for a voice-controlled (read: mobile) web world. That, say Chris Anderson and Tim O’Reilly, is why they give away GOOG411 for free: to learn our voices. And now note that Google is asking people to donate their voicemails to Google’s effort to improve its own transcription. Search will become visual and aural (read: mobile).

* Google Earth is coming to the cockpit of the new Audi, giving drivers rich geographic data about where they are and where they’re going.

* GoogleMaps on Android will now tell you what’s nearby.

* Let’s not forget that Google will make money on local — Eric Schmidt said on CNBC a year and a half ago that Google will eventually make more on mobile than the web (which, to me, doesn’t mean phones; it means our constantly on connection devices). This is why Google bought mobile ad leader AdMob for $750 million.

That’s mobile. Now look at some of its search enhancements to better intuit intent:

* Go to the Google home page. Start typing “Weather in Lon” and stop there. Google will not only suggest that you want weather in London, it will give you the forecast for London right there in the search box. You didn’t even finish typing in what you wanted to ask and Google gave you the answer without you even having to click and go to a site.

Google search

Google’s holy grail, they’ve long said, is to anticipate your intent. That explains, I think, some of Google’s other moves.

* Google DNS is supposed to speed up the web for you (speed is a big Google cause these days) but it also gives Google an invaluable source of data about web usage: who goes where when and before and after what sites looking for what. Now, your ISP knows that. But with DNS, Google could know that. It makes Google smarter about the web and its content as a whole, certainly, and so long as it is careful about privacy, it can enable Google to target to us better.

I see a day when search (like news) is no longer one size fits all. Search will be customized, personalized, and targeted to us and our contexts: who we are and where and when we are asking for something. This, I think, could mean the slow death of the dark art of SEO.

* How will Google get us to use its DNS? Well, I’ll bet it will be the default in computers equipped with Google Chrome OS. And I wouldn’t be surprised of the Google Chrome browser can provide some of this data to Google.

* Google launches social search. This creates more context and gives Google another clue to intent.

Now add back in all the mobile developments above. This gives Google more context to anticipate our intent.

But that’s not all. I’ve said for sometime that Google is behind in battles for the live and social web and was going to say here that it was bypassing those strategies to concentrate on mobile/local. But as I wrote the post, I saw more threads in both live and social.

* Google added Twitter to its search results. That’s pretty much a BFD. But it shows they’re trying to grapple with the live web. And that’s why there are never-ending rumors about Google buying Twitter.

* Wave is an important shift in the metaphor for content creation, making it collaborative (read: social) and live. Google added social tools to Google Docs. It make Docs a path to publishing (and being found via search) on the web. Creation itself is a social act once it enables us to connect.

* Add in the social bits above: Yelp is a community tool; QR codes and visual search will let us talk about places and things and find each other and meet; Foursquare and Gowalla make local social and Google could help them.

Last night, after the Yelp report, I tweeted this: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”. Om Malik piped in: “@jeffjarvis I love your unrelenting belief in google. I think u need to start look at world in a non-search context.” But then I said – and others agreed: “I also think Google is starting to look at the world in a non-search context (i.e., local, live, mobile)”.

I believe that’s what we’re seeing here: the start of Google’s view of itself after search. Not that search will go away but it will become less important in the shifting mix of out rings of discovery. And if search is going to stay preeminent, it had better update itself profoundly.

: See also Gina Trapani’s excellent roundup of Google’s amazing 2009 developments.

: LATER: Kara Swisher says Google is also eying real-estate search Trulia.

  • anthony

    Great article on the anticipated EVOLUTION OF GOOGLE.

  • You missed Google Latitude in this excellent synthesis. That’s part of the mobile puzzle on some level.

  • I have to imagine they are also considering at least an investment in Foursquare. Although I would also imagine that might come at a higher price than Dodgeball.

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  • rickfle

    I see a problem here: Google is at least perceived to be truthful as an institution; at least they strive to “do no evil.” Yelp, on the other hand is easily gamed and something of a cesspool of small-mindedness, flame feuds and general b.s. Maybe Google wants the platform, but does it want or need the content and the problems?

  • Jeff you have the same love for Google that my 15-year-old has for Megan Fox!

    Seriously though, this is interesting stuff – thx for the report. They’re everywhere. Someday we may have to think about Google going public – and by that, I mean a regulated utility.

    • I don’t think that follows. Some tried to regulate Microsoft. It was a waste of time. I may like Google. But I like the market more.

      • Well, the market didn’t work so well for railroads, radio bands, electricity and this thing we call ‘the Internet.’ I do think Google has to be very careful about perceived hegemony or run afoul of the next Teddy Roosevelt…

        • Tom,
          The key word is perception. It’s a PR problem.

      • Andy Freeman

        > Well, the market didn’t work so well for railroads,

        What are you babbling about? The market worked great for railroads. Regulation is what almost killed them.

        And yes, that was true even in the transcontinental days. The ones on the govt teat built tracks that didn’t last to places with no traffic while the ones that did without make money.

        As far as “the internet” goes, govt gave darpa money and bought bandwidth. By govt standards, Darpa is competent, albeit wasteful, but it isn’t typical. The DMV is.

        Radio bands? Until recently, govt didn’t actually give a damn what you did on a given frequency. It just said who could be on a given frequency. That’s a long way from “govt search”.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Someday we may have to think about Google going public – and by that, I mean a regulated utility.


      Search is not a natural monopoly. And, if govt takeover is the solution to popular “biased search results” (or whatever excuse is used), then what’s to stop folks from moving those “biases” (or whatever) to another search company (possibly new)? Since we’re assuming popular, the users will soon follow, and the govt is left holding a very expensive bag.

      Or, are you thinking that we should regulate all search companies or somehow stop folks from abandoning “govt search”?

      Note – The above only depends on Google’s results, however determined, being popular, regardless of any bias or other malfesance.

      • Not so much search – I do think there is and will continue to be natural competiton there.

        It’s all the rest – ‘everything will be digitized and pass through Google’ – that’s dangerous and anti-American if taken to the extreme. Does Google really want to take over DNS, for example? Hopefully they’ll pull back, but the forces of regulation are clearly lining up for the future. I’m just saying this as an observer – hell, I love Google’s toolset, run my business on it.

      • Andy Freeman

        > It’s all the rest – ‘everything will be digitized and pass through Google’

        “All the rest” is basically noise. (Look at the actual revenues.)

        The quote is a nice touch. It’s your saying and it scares you. While interesting at some level, it tells us nothing about what’s actually happening in the world.

        > Does Google really want to take over DNS, for example?

        That assumes facts not in evidence. (They offered free dns services, below the root.) If you actually know something not-public, let’s see it. Otherwise, you’re just scaring yourself with things that you’re making up.

        I’m not a big fan of Google, but ranting about fantasies is dumb.

        Or, maybe this is part of Google’s plan to discredit critics. It promotes lots of bogus arguments so that folks associate lunacy with Google criticism.

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  • pacific_waters


  • Hi Jeff… Love the post
    If I could add something to the conversation.
    I believe that people are not doing simple search any more but are moving to having a conversation with the Google search bar.
    In the days of encyclopedia’s we searched in the index for a particular word but how many people are searching for one word today. People are starting to search for phrases which is why we now have the notion of a ‘long tail’ key word.
    But as people see Google as their friend and helper, I believe they will start to have a conversation with the Google search bar and we’ll see ‘long tail’ key words become more and more conversational which is where social media and Google could meet in a marriage made in heaven.
    Instead of typing in ‘dog training’ people will type in ‘help me train my dog’

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  • This is The New Google. Nothing more, nothing less.

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  • Jeff,
    It’s funny we did send out QR Codes Stickers ( in 2008 to local businesses in Zurich and we did the place page early on ( and immediately got it when Google switched.

    The day we will work truly mobile, search will go in the background and local context and social will be really important.

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  • Hi Jeff
    I have just read your book. I was suprised with your entusiasm and your way of understanding modern world. You treat G. like god at least. Don’t you worry about our future? I am not against prosperity and technology, but try to think about it like me. Why all wisdom, informations and experience of humankind should be in a hand of ONE company. ‘Company’ is the keyword here. Universities and churches aren’t commercial, but they did most of our development. We can’t give all to google, because…
    “Power corrupts…
    Total power corrupts totally!”
    Don’t forget about it and try to take off your googSharesPinkGlasses for a while at least. I have even better idea! JOIN US …

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  • Google still have a positive aura around it. No matter how much money they make or what markets they go into, people still don’t feel that they are being exploited by Google, that’s a good thing..

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  • Hi,

    I’ve been meaning to get round to reading this post for a while, and while I was going through some old links of mine, serendipitously also came across a similar post from a few years ago:

    Jeff, Google is trying to Proprietarise the internet, from one where people entered a search term and it directed users as quickly as possible without getting in the way to external sites, having built the user-base/market-share and told everyone it wasn’t evil or a portal, it has gone on to acquire, control or present “content” that keeps users within, while killing the myriad smaller players and making it almost impossible for new entrants (see mapping) and essentially turning its regular users version of the Internet into its private fiefdom, it’s own dark-web, walled-garden for the fattest part of search.

    It is pursuing with data, what Wal-Mart has done for physical goods in the constant cycle of greater custom, lower prices, less competitors; and applying the basis of the network-effect in a segment where its not a fundamental necessity.

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

  • “Or, maybe this is part of Google’s plan to discredit critics. It promotes lots of bogus arguments so that folks associate lunacy with Google criticism.”

    Very good – like it!

    More seriously though, I think that with any company that is as good as Google, and helps as many people as it does there will inevitably be some people who fear the worst and forcast total monopolies and choice-architecture webs.

    In my opinion, which is just that, I think we can expect great things from Google without worrying about gross unethical conduct. Did they not recently pull out of China on moral grounds (in one fell swipe alienating themselves from their largest market). Its not all about the money for some companies – just being the best at what they do.

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  • This post was done in 2009?

    Wow, that’s some foresight you’ve got there Jeff!

    You were even talking about QR codes, and how Google was looking at the non search world… do you do palm readings too?


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