Why is Google so successful? Most people reply to this question by saying that it is the company’s superior search technology. This is why Google is so popular, but this is not why Google is such a successful company. Google is successful for one simple reason: it made advertising invisible, thus creating huge value for users and web publishers simultaneously. I believe this is the fundamental business challenge for platform makers of social media (social networks, blogs, rating systems, media sharing, etc.) and syndication (rss, widgets, toolbars, personal home pages, etc.), i.e.,. simultaneously delivering high value for web publishers and their communities without being intrusive.
Social media and syndication sit to the right and left of search. Search is great for catching people when they are already looking for something, i.e., in the middle of a purchase process. It is less effective in creating awareness, facilitating a decision and building brand loyalty. These are the strengths of social media and syndication, because these technologies leverage the organic, local connections of the Internet (as opposed to search which adds them up and presents the aggregate results). As such, they have the ability to reach out and engage the single individual, allowing him or her to discover your content surreptitiously, spread it virally and subscribe to it permanently.
This is enough to make businesses based on these technologies immensely popular. It is not sufficient to make them successful. Becoming an integral, useful and most importantly invisible part of the users purchase process will.