What To Expect From Google In 2011

Google can do a lot with what it has, but expect local and social search to be the core action items, says Clint Boulton

This is the first official business week of the new year, so welcome back to work in 2011.

As I prepare for the start of the Consumer Electronics Show, where I’ll be covering all gadgets Android, let’s briefly run down what I think will be top of mind for Google in 2011.

It won’t concern becoming a phone carrier, which is actually a prospect that has people salivating in anticipation of ridiculously low price points.

For what we’ll casually call a Google Wireless offering, they’re missing the big picture: Google becoming a carrier would enable it to exert an unprecedented amount of control over our data.

Not only would Google cultivate our content in its servers, but, with Google Fibre and Google Wireless, it could control the pipes and airwaves across which it federates that data. Do we really want that measure of influence from a single company?

A lot of you said yes in the comments, which is surprising and a little disturbing, but I guess when carriers have earned so much hatred it’s easy to jump ship for the promise of something new.

Anyway, here’s what I think Google will focus on in 2011, most of which has been long under way.

Local: Expect Google to pick up its local search and ad efforts by acquiring a local deals provider such as LivingSocial or Buywithme after missing the Groupon deal.

Google would also blend its contextual discovery search into this. I expect to see this surfaced in Google.com search results and later Google Maps results, linking Google Places data with the ability to pitch user results based on their personal preferences.

Google needs to do this. Facebook has its Deals offering in place, even though no one but the social network has any idea how this is doing. Anyone saved money from Facebook Deals yet? Me neither. Facebook needs more than two dozen partners.

Also, Yahoo Local Offers is coming out, but don’t expect much from this company, which is running around rudderless, trying to latch onto something popular that will boost the bottom line.

Social: We don’t know exactly all that Google is doing here, but this +1 social layers thing should be significant. That doesn’t mean it will be.

It’s not a bet on the future of the company – I believe no matter how much content people put in Facebook people will always want non-social search – but people have come to expect so much that if it’s anything as minor as the Google Buzz bolt on, it will fade under derision.

Who am I kidding? From the little I’ve seen and against the rolling tide of Facebook – most popular website and searched term in 2010 – +1 will more likely be an upgrade to the current Social Search offering, leveraging Google Profiles.

Bully for existing Google users, but it won’t lure Facebook users to Google to socialise. When you have a pronounced network effect the way Facebook has had, it’s hard to top, let alone match.

Even the popular Twitter has its limits. You won’t see that service hitting 500 million anytime soon and it’s only three years younger than Facebook.

Despite all the +1 talk, it certainly hasn’t stopped Googlers from becoming Xooglers at Facebook down the street in Palo Alto. That doesn’t provide a vote of confidence, does it?

Augmented Reality: Google TV wowed us at Google I/O last May. No one saw that coming. Google +1 could come at I/O, but it would fail to wow people because it’s long anticipated.

I expect Google to do something cool with Street View. Some augmented reality thing layered atop the Street View images, tethered to contextual discovery and Google AdWords.

Say you’re within one mile of your favorite local coffee shop. Your phone flashes you an alert that the store is offering buy one get one free on donuts.

Street View would show the user an image of the storefront, along with a real-time augmented reality layer of how busy the store is, what the specials are, etc.

This is assuming, of course, the Street View service isn’t shut down in some countries over the WiSpy incident.

Here is my full list of expected Google products and features for 2011.

Let me know what you think.