What to Make of Google’s new ‘Semantic Social Networking’ Patent
Google has been going hog wild in acquiring new patents recently. Just a few weeks ago they bought an IBM patent for something called ‘Semantic Social Networking.’ Perhaps more than any other recent patent, this hints at plans to start taking social networking to the next level.
While the theory and application of semantic social networking is complex, the idea itself is very simple: gather and organize data (or people) according to shared interests. Over the past few years the idea of semantic networking has become the holy grail for some tech circles interested in search and networking. This is evidenced by the countless new entrants and product introductions by the likes of T2, Huohua, and Yummly, to name a few.
We always knew Google had its hand in semantic networks, but not until the purchase of this IBM patent and G+’s forceful integration into everything Google is it becoming apparent exactly how far they intend to take it. Bringing a semantic approach to mainstream online networking could change everything. It would provide you with all of your interests in an easily indexed structure, and it makes the possibility of a truly Proactive online model possible. Put simply – semantic networking could usher in a new era of online networking and fundamentally change the way people think about and use the Internet.
Semantic social networking could potentially be the biggest, most impactful change to social networking in a long time, but where Google has it wrong is not in what they’re doing, but where they’re doing it. It’s not a stretch to assume that G+ will be the tool they use to showcase the potential of semantic networking, but it’s simply the wrong vehicle for this. For one thing, G+ is not successful or solid enough as a stand-alone network to become a flagship semantic network. Trying to make G+ a semantic social network is like trying to put metal wings on a cardboard plane and expecting it to fly. Furthermore, G+ just isn’t built to accommodate semantic networks, everything is rigidly organized and predefined based on the networks you already have. Semantic networking doesn’t necessarily need to allow for discovery, but discovery should be the natural progression of it given the inherent purpose of connecting users with people and things around them.
Given this, it seems that the problem of applying semantics extends beyond just G+ into the overall structure and state of social networking today. Our social networks, including G+, today are based on a reactive model, meaning that users only benefit from interacting with people they already know. For a user to get value from a reactive network they need to have an existing base of connections to bring with them to be able to interact.
I understand that Google is pushing to have more cohesive product offerings in lieu of a platform, but if Google really wants to use this patent and truly realize the effects of semantic theory they need to forget G+. It’s unfortunate that after close to a decade of defining and exploring the potential of social networks, semantic value has yet to become truly understood and properly applied. If one of the biggest benefits of semantic social networking is allowing users to connect and discover what’s around them, what good is this without defining the communities and groups that these things exist within? Add a human element to semantic algorithms and semantic social networking has incredibly impressive and broad-reaching implications.
As Google understands, creating a properly functioning semantic network will benefit both users and their communities far beyond what’s possible by using the current networking model. To really maximize what is possible with a semantic network we need a model that encapsulates everything these interests and communities have to offer, not just one that organizes these things (cough G+), and be able to translate user actions into something that is actually beneficial and relevant to the greater communities and interest groups naturally created by us humans, the force that drives online relevance. It needs to be less of a place to share links with friends and more of a place where you truly can discover the people and things around you in a natural way.
Google is investing a lot of time and money to make G+ the center of its products line because Google can see the potential of semantic networking and recognizes that semantics are truly the next evolution of the online networking model. Hopefully the industry as a whole will begin to recognize and embrace the potential of semantic social networking and Google, if they’re smart, will abandon G+ and create something that can really handle semantic structure.