Monthly Archives: March 2012

Can Facebook REALLY Threaten Google in Search?

Only In The Most Lucrative Categories…

There’s been much speculation lately that Facebook is finally staffing up to take a shot at improving their internal search product, a product that many would agree has been woefully under utilized in the past.  Along with this comes the usual debate around social search:

  • What exactly is social search?
  • How compelling is it, both to users and advertisers?
  • Can it really compete with Google?

The answer to the last questions is ‘No’, and this would be a wonderfully short blog post should that be a complete answer…but it’s not.  Incorporating social signals in search can improve it in a way that is so exciting and compelling that Google has to not only be aware, but deeply concerned by it as well.

Social Influence in Purchase Decisions

For the uninitiated, much of the opportunity (or concern, depending on which side of the fence you sit) around social search has to do with how purchase decisions are influenced by your social connections.  Research has repeatedly shown that friends and family are big influencers in purchase decisions, and the larger the purchase the more these social connections are sought out for advice.

Given the above it’s not surprising so many companies in the larger priced categories such as travel, electronics and automotive have been aggressively experimenting with social media.  But how does this tie in with search?

It’s a Temporal Issue

Think about the last time your friend cornered you and forced you to view the photos from his recent trip to the Caribbean.  You probably enjoyed the first few photos of turquoise inlets and stunning sunsets, but your mind likely wandered around the fourth restaurant photo or the nineteenth beach shot.  The reality is this really isn’t all that relevant to you right now, but it might be very relevant to you the next time you’re planning a vacation.

The key is to aggregate and structure this content in a way that it can easily be retrieved when needed (sound like search yet?).  Companies like TripAdvisor have already built hugely successful businesses on the aggregation of anonymous content, just think how powerful this becomes when it gets plugged into your social graph.

Exhibit from Facebook's S-1 Registration filing

The above is from Facebook’s recent S-1 registration filing, illustrating the deep integration of Facebook’s social graph on TripAdvisor’s core site.  However what’s far more compelling than the main page integration is what happens when you search for a destination in the big white search box at the top of the page and can immediately see which of your friends have been to Paris, Cape Cod or South America.

It’s this social search experience that’s so compelling to consumers, and likely to cause the greatest amount of concern at Google, especially when you consider as much as 15% of Google’s total revenue is rumored to come from the travel industry.  Is it any wonder then that recently there have been rumors flying around regarding Google and Facebook expressing interest in acquiring TripAdvisor.

How is this Relevant to Automobiles?

Let me answer this by posing two questions.

  1. How many Facebook friends do you have?
  2. What cars do each of of them drive?

Question number two is the kicker, and I’ll bet the majority of people can name less than 10% of their friends’ vehicles.  And why should they? It’s really not important unless they’re searching for a new car, at which point it may become highly relevant and important.

Let’s say I’m searching for a new car and interested in finding out more about Infiniti’s G series.  If I type that query into Google I get the following results as part of their social search experience.

Google Social Search results for 'Infiniti G series'

The above social connections are pretty useless to me in my research of new cars to buy, however the following would be immensely useful.

Ideal Social Search Experience

For this to become viable, Google (or Facebook) would need to know one additional piece of data about you: what car you drive.

We think about this alot at C2G as over 1 million people have now entered this exact piece of information into our Galculator, and the volume is growing at a rapid rate.

Travel and Automotive represent two of the biggest advertising categories online.  What are your thoughts on social search?  Do you think Google has anything to worry about with Facebook’s latest moves?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Happy Driving!

What would you like to see in a road trip planner app?

Travel: What would you like to see in a road trip planner app? 3 answers on Quora

What would you like to see in a road trip planner app?

Why All The Sudden Pinterest?

If you’ve been in hibernation this winter, or traveling in some remote location with no internet access, then perhaps you haven’t heard of Pinterest.  For the rest of us its been impossible to ignore as its the hottest thing since Paris Hilton ignited a media frenzy oh so many years ago.

UPDATE 2: Referral traffic from Pinterest continues growing rapidly and is approaching 1,000/day.  Some of the categories people are pinning it under include Good Cheap Ideas, All Things Fun and Free, Being Frugal and Vacation Ideas.

Daily referral visits to Cost2Drive.com from Pinterest

So what has people so excited about Pinterest that some in the media claim it represents a valid threat to Facebook?  Is it the beautifully simple design combined with the stunning images that people are pinning?  Or is it the viral hooks that make it easy to share through social media.  Or perhaps it satisfies an innate need in all of us to organize our desires (as in bucket lists) and pinning images is so much more fun than typing text?

Browsing Pinterest Images for Road Trips

I’m not exactly sure why Pinterest has taken off the way it has, but some other similar bookmarking services such as de.li.cious and StumbleUpon have seen rapid growth in the past.  Regardless of the reason, every social media pundit on the planet is sounding the alarm that if you run a consumer business you’d better get plugged into Pinterest ASAP lest you get left behind as stories are already circulating about Pinterest driving enormous volumes of traffic to sites.

As for us, we were struggling to find a reason why someone would pin Cost2Drive on Pinterest and so were very pleasantly surprised to find people are already doing just that as yesterday we notice 23 people had pinned the site under the category of Smart Ideas.

Pinterest pins on Cost2Drive.com

Maybe those pundits are right.  Rest assured we’ll be taking a closer look into Pinterest.  If you’re still struggling with what Pinterest is all about, Business Insider has an excellent tutorial where you can learn more.

The Trough of Sorrow

Weekly Visits to Cost2Drive (past 18 months)

Trend-line Turns Vertical on Cost2Drive.  Are We There Yet?

Over the past few weeks something remarkable has been happening with visits to Cost2Drive.com, our popular fuel cost calculator website.  They’ve begun growing at an accelerating pace leading us to wonder if we’ve broken through some type of barrier, emerging from the infamous ‘trough of sorrow’.

Paul Graham, the essayist and hugely successful founder of Y Combinator, has a  chart that he uses to depict the process of a startup.  The process, which some refer to as the startup curve, defines the typical phases of a startup.

Paul Graham: The Process of a Startup

According to Paul a startup goes through a number of phases, beginning with the novelty phase where there is a huge spike of visits generated via a great deal of press attention and by being the ‘newest cool thing’ on the market.  This phase is fleeting, however, and quickly descends into a lengthy period of despair that he calls the trough of sorrow.  If you’re lucky enough to emerge from the trough of sorrow and survive the inevitable crash of ineptitude eventually you’ll find your way to the promised land.

I first heard of this startup curve from Brian Chesky, the CEO and cofounder of Airbnb,  a Y Combinator company now valued at over $1 billion.  As I listened to Brian share his own version of Airbnb’s journey from early success to near death to eventual funding, I was immediately struck by the similarities with C2G.

When we first launched Cost2Drive.com back in the fall of 2008 we went through the novelty spike Paul depicts in his chart.  Hundreds of bloggers from around the globe were blogging about us and we ended up with over 170,000 visits in our first month.

Blog post on launch of Cost2Drive.com (I have no idea what it says)

There were thrills and high fives and an abundance of enthusiasm as we watched our daily visits go from 50 per day to 25,000 almost overnight and at one point my engineer cofounder determined we were getting hit 167 times per second!

Blog post on launch of Cost2Drive.com

And then it just evaporated.

Had we known this was the typical process for a startup, perhaps it wouldn’t have been so painful, and in reality I’ll bet less than 1% of all startups actually get the type of traction we saw at launch and I wouldn’t give it back for the world.  But seeing it all disappear was like getting sucker punched in the stomach, and thus we descended into the trough of sorrow.

Blog post on launch Cost2Drive.com

An interesting point about Paul’s chart is that the trough of sorrow is actually the longest phase.  In fact it conveys that the majority of a startup’s life is spent wallowing in the trough, suffering through wiggles of false hope and the crash of ineptitude (yes, we had our version of this as well).

For us the trough has been a long one, and its not yet clear if we’ve emerged or if this is just one of those diabolical wiggles of false hope.  But even if it is it’s still tremendous growth and for a startup growth is the essence of  survival.

The Top 10 Signs it’s Spring Break

Photo reprinted with permission from spadre.com.

Spring break is upon us.  How do we know this? Here are the top 10 signs!

10. Your teacher just assigned you a huge project.

9. South Padre Island is at the top of the ride share board.

8. Your bank account is nearly at zero.

7. You’re shopping for bikinis and its 10 below zero outside.

6. Your boyfriend just broke up with you.

5. You just broke up with your boyfriend.

4. A strange orange tan has mysteriously appeared on your body.

3. The gym is suddenly packed.

2. You’ve stayed sober all week in preparation.

1. You just blocked your parents from your Facebook page.