Who is Going to Organize Social Information on the Web?

Mike Arrington has a good post today on how social media today is a lot like search was 10 years ago. You can read it here. In it, he notes

“The online social landscape today sort of feels to me like search did in 1999. It’s a mess, but we don’t complain much about it because we don’t know there’s a better way.

Everything is decentralized, and no one is working to centralize stuff. I’ve got photos on Flickr, Posterous and Facebook (and even a few on MySpace), reviews on Yelp (but movie reviews on Flixster), location on Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla, status updates on Facebook and Twitter, and videos on YouTube. Etc. I’ve got dozens of social graphs on dozens of sites, and trying to remember which friends puts his or her pictures on which site is a huge challenge.

And the amount of spam and just general nonsense that is flooding all of these services is crippling. As a user, I spend far too much time weeding it all out to find the few gems of real content from people I care about.”

He then goes on to call for someone to organize it:

“Someone will eventually help us make sense of all these various types of services, and help us separate the noise and spam from the real signal. I don’t know who’s going to do it, and I certainly don’t know how (if I did, I’d be doing it, not writing about it). But at some point soon, one of the Internet giants, or some new startup we’ve never heard of, is going to fix this mess for us.”

While I agree with both of his points, I don’t think figuring out the when and who is that difficult. I’m willing to confidently predict that the social media space will be organized in the next two years, and that it will be done by either Facebook or Google. The reason I have such confidence in this prediction is simple. Facebook and Google are the only two companies that have both the computing power, and the ability to collect the information necessary to actually organize the social space. Actually collecting the social information on is the first, and larger, problem. Here, Facebook has a huge advantage over Google, because it’s the largest social network in the world. However, it’s only a relative advantage. Google is a close second in the amount of information it collects. The second problem is that actually organizing the world’s social graph is a large-scale computational problem that is even more difficult than organizing the world’s web pages. Now, I was extremely impressed with the amount of technical energy I felt at Facebook when I visited there campus for the Hip Hop for PHP event, but Google still has a huge advantage in computing resources and skill. Google’s basic computational infrastructure is far ahead of Facebook’s, and indeed anyone else’s infrastructure..
So, out of these two, who would I bet on? I’d make Google the 2-1 favorite. But, as we saw in the Superbowl yesterday, favorites don’t always win.

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