Where’s the business value of data? In its effective use. In a Cloud-centric environment, that value is optimized by the efficient use of data within an integrative platform of software and services. And in a socially networked Cloud environment, that data can be at least as valuable as other intellectual property. As such, social networking data alone can drive the acquisition of entire firms.

Less than a year ago – August 21, 2012 to be exact - Google purchased travel publishing brand Frommer's Travel from John Wiley and Sons for $22 million. It looked as though Google may be developing an online travel platform/portal service bundling Zagat and travel-optimized data management software firm ITA.  

Just a week ago, Google turned around and sold the Frommer’s brand to founder Arthur Frommer, who intends to continue to publish the legendary travel guides online and in print.

What did Google get for seven months of effort and $22M? Petabytes of travel-related social networking contacts and their related behavioral data. Google is retaining all of the data from former Frommer’s followers, from Frommer’s itself as well as from Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare and of course, Google+.

Now, Google has a wealth of social network user data to integrate with its well-organized, international travel advisory brand – Zagat – and its data management service/platform optimized for travel data use – ITA. The initial outcome? A global, ad-enabled, SEO-driven travel services operation: @ZagatTravel on Twitter.

In a public statement about the re-sale of Frommer’s to Mr. Frommer, Google noted that, “we’ve spent the last several months integrating the travel content we acquired from Wiley into Google+ Local and our other Google services. We can confirm that we have returned the Frommer’s brand to its founder and are licensing certain travel content to him.”

In a Cloudy universe, Social network-related data is perhaps the most valuable business data available, because it’s not just account information, it’s user ID, history, behavior, transactions, and preferences – an advertiser and search engine dreamscape. That can make social networking data, especially user behavioral data, worth acquiring entire companies to possess.

A company’s reputation? Branding? Not so valuable. User search, comment, purchase and interest history across multiple communications, content, and payment networks? Priceless.

Though its actions mirror those of the widely-derided “patent trolls,” Google has so far avoided being labeled as a “database troll” for its actions of acquiring, digesting and re-selling the remains of Frommer’s. And while Google is by no means the first or only company to acquire another firm for its customer/user list – an activity decades if not centuries old – they are an extremely high-profile firm with the deep pockets to engage in much more, similar behavior to extend their socially-connected, behavior search-optimized advertising empire. And if/when Google is successful, we can look forward to many other firms engaging in similar behavior in the coming months. Welcome to the era of the database trolls.

This blog originally appeared at Saugatuck Lens360.