Google announced its Social Graph API late last week. To many of us, Google's new API may not seem that important. Watch the video at the end of this post to hear more about what the API does from a practical perspective. But, for those companies engaged in semantic (data) parsing of the web, I'd like to point out that Google has just reminded you of something very important:
Google's Social Graph API reminds everyone that Google is Great. That it can reach into its vast database at any moment, and make hundreds of hours of other developers' work seem irrelevant; that big problems are small, when they tackle them; and the you can lead the way all you want in the world of the Semantic Web, but as soon as there's a lead anywhere in the industry, Google can come in and clean house by turning on a light switch.
You see, the Social Graph API, like several other Google-provided APIs, allows developers to dive into Google's rich index of hyperlinks -- an index they already have, and an index which is updated more frequently than anyone else can -- and pull out valuable meaning.
So, while you could go and build a service which analyzes links to people on webpages and then connects those links to other links about those people (similar to new features rolled out by Union Square Ventures-backed Adaptive Blue), you can now turn to Google's Social Graph API and build a similar service with nearly no heavy lifting.
For another example, look at what happened today: Google, who is already culling thousands of news sources and publishing them in their News section, just announced a local news feature, basically taking the content they already have, doing some analysis on it, and outputting something that will compete with fine folks like Outside.in, which had been work on the issue for quite some time. Once again, Google shows that with a flick of the switch they move head-on into a space powered by semantic analysis.
Another example here with with blogs search. Google Blog Search passed Technorati in short order, because at the end of the day, Google's search is going to be faster and better than anyone's, and all the GOOG had to do was create a service around data that was already flowing through their databases.
Google isn't revolutionizing media because it "owns the data". Rather, it's because Google uses markets and networks to massively amplify the flow of data relative to competitors. Even when Google opens up more and more data - and make no mistake, it will - it will still realize an advantage.
Is this the "semantic network effect"? Sounds like it. And what should we do with a well networked data source? Build on top of it, not against it. Against it -- trying to collect and analyze the same data -- you won't win. Prettying it up, you may.