Google, Wikileaks, and Location Wars: Lessons learned from 2010

It’s been a helluva year, and not just for Google and Facebook. We’ve seen location based services (LBS) goes more mainstream, the rise of Groupon, and the dirty laundry of politicians and diplomats aired out on the worldwide interwebs.

So what exactly can we learn from the year of 2010? Well, a few things.

Google Is Not Invincible

This year was the year that Facebook not only surpassed Google and Youtube combined in page views, but also served up 8 times more ad impressions than Google (in Q3). What does this tell us?

Well for starters, it shows that even though Google remains, by far, the biggest player in search, that might not be enough for very long. Essentially, search just ain’t what it used to be, and it might not be important for much longer. As Nicolas Carlson put it for the SF Gate:

What scares Google about Twitter and Facebook is that people are using them to share links, “like” web pages, and favorite tweets. People are using Twitter and Facebook to say what they think are the most important things on the Internet.

Because Twitter and Facebook are black boxes Google can’t crawl, it no longer has access to anything close to 100% of the best meta-data available for sorting and organizing the Internet.

This can mean that if Google doesn’t learn a new trick (and quick), it risks being relegated to the mediocrity that has befell both Yahoo, Ask, and MySpace.

Timing Is Everything

Here, we’re not just talking about launching a new product just as the marketplace is ready for it. We’re talking about the good old fashioned sales principle of urgency. Urgency is all about about limited time offers: “Act now because this deal won’t be available forever.”

In 2010, daily deal sites sprung up like weeds, from Groupon to Living Social, offering users localized, limited time offers that they can share with their personal social network. This represented two milestones for online marketing.

First, we’ve now seen urgency not just move online, but become an online model of its own. More importantly, it represents new heights in converting web traffic into foot traffic.

Location, Location, Location

Anyone in retail or especially food service will be the first to tell you: location is everything. You can offer the best products at the best prices, but if you’re located off the beaten path, away from foot traffic, your business will find it challenging to survive.

Well, it seems that 2010 has proven to be the year where location matters online. With the launch of Google’s Hotpot and Facebook’s Places, and the rise localized daily deal sites (such as Groupon), it seems that LBS has finally gone mainstream.

What’s been most interesting is that we haven’t just found a way to convert web traffic into foot traffic. We’ve found a way to commercialize social networks. Foursquare and Gowalla were the first to do this, but they required users to migrate or rebuild their personal networks on new platforms.

Where things got interesting were with Facebook Places and Google Hotpot. Both let us leverage our existing contacts. While Facebook Places lets us see where our friends are or have been, Hotpot lets use discover new places that our friend like.

Being First Doesn’t Mean First Place

In 2010, we saw how being the first to offer a user experience neither prevents someone from doing it better nor from them beating you to the punch altogether. In late April, Facebook was granted a patent for its news feed that could have muscled Twitter out.

Of course, Facebook didn’t use the patent that way, but it forced both services to rethink how the “feed experience” they offer users is unique. And by not patenting it first, Twitter missed an opportunity to own that kind of experience entirely.

Then in November, Facebook launched Places, which effectively stunted the potential of Foursquare and Gowalla. In a nutshell, Facebook already had the mass user-base that the other niche services lacked, meaning Facebook could take this kind of experience mainstream. Once again, the pioneers missed the boat.

You Can’t Close Pandora’s Box

If there’s anything that Wikileaks and Cablegate taught us, it’s that nothing is safe: not secrets, not those who let them out, and not the media.

When Wikileaks started releasing US diplomatic cables, the US wasn’t the only one to be embarrassed. Many allies and trading partners were also compromised, including China and Saudi Arabia.

But despite unknown hackers attacking the site, its domain name provider dropping it, its funding being cut, and the founder being arrested, the leaks just kept coming. And while only a fraction of the cables have been released, there’s no way to stop the rest from coming out because Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, has , promised to release everything if anything happens to him.

Now governments and world leaders have a reminder of what we tell our kids all the time: be very careful, because once something online, it’s there forever.

An Interesting 12 Months

2010 has proven to be an interesting year for online technology and business. For some (like Foursquare, Gowalla, and the White House), it’s proven to be interesting more in the sense of the Chinese proverb. For others (such as Facebook), it’s proven interesting in a more positive sense.

Overall, 2010 has offered both mistakes to learn from and new trends worth following into the new year. How some of those lessons play out in 2011, of course, we’ll just have to wait and see.

About CT Moore

A former Staff Editor here at, CT Moore is a recovering agency hack with over a decade experience leveraging search, social media, and content marketing to help brands meet their business goals online. He currently provides digital strategy consulting to start-ups, SMBs, enterprise level companies through his consultancy Socialed Inc.. CT is also an accomplished blogger and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can better leverage different online channels.

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