Facebook versus Google

There is a great article in Wired today describing how Facebook is increasingly a threat to Google.  First I am going to pull out what is the best explanation I’ve seen of why the two companies have diametrically opposed views of the web:

For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this "social graph" to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.

I’ve long had the feeling that social search is going to be important, but despite a lot of meeting startups in this space and spending a lot of time thinking about the topic I have struggled to see how it will work in practice.  Maybe querying the social graph (on Facebook), or more probably the extended social graph, will provide the answer.

The Wired article is quite long, but well worth a read if this topic is of interest to you.

I’m going to bring out three other highlights here:

  1. Wired describes Facebook’s four step plan:
    • Build critical mass – largely done
    • Redefine search – this will perhaps be the hardest part, but as described above the basic idea is already visible
    • Colonize the Web – Facebook Connect and Open Stream allow FB to extend it’s reach into and gather information from a myriad of other web apps
    • Sell targeted ads everywhere
  2. The biggest advertising budgets are still not online – offline spend on brand advertising last year totalled $500bn, which compares with online brand advertising of $50bn.  Google has not been terribly successful in this market.  Facebook hopes it can be.
  3. There is now a TON of information on Facebook that is hidden from Google search – FB’s 200m members add 4bn pieces of info, 850m photos and 8 million videos every month.

As pointed out in the comments to the wired article there is of course space on the web for both Google and Facebook to continue to be successful.  I guess the interesting thing here is that Facebook is starting to look like it could become a threat to Google’s utter dominance, although they obviously have a long way to go, not least in finding a way to make money.

  • I'm curious why so much debate is centred around destination sites and portals and so litle around who will own our 'homepage/ dashboard' of the future. (This will soon be our de facto login space for all media content on a wall at home or in a 3D virtual form in our office.) The consumer will increasingly want a perceived choice and individuality within that and then most search options will probably incorporate all of the above into whichever front window we happen to favour…..and that's where the advertisers will most want to be!

    I wouldn't discount Microsoft yet and if they got their act together fast enough and took the plunge on a cloud based version of all their products and integrated them with Bing, then things could get interesting. Unfortunately, they are possibly too encumbered by a tech and not media mindset and so probably won't do it in time for others to get there first.

  • Hi Jan, I agree that MS could still pull a rabbit out of the hat – Bing has surprised on the upside. Not so sure the homepage is so important though. Most people won't bother to set one up.

  • Not yet maybe, but I still think the future is one online entry point like iGoogle, especially when all media content is delivered on a catered basis! For the same reasons you cite for people being too lazy to set up a dashboard, one day they'll do it to save effort! imho

  • Steve Woods
  • I don't see how Facebook as a company can scale up to handle a social-graph rich and complex enough to recommend a local doctor to me. To become the provider of doctor recommendations Facebook will have to link up more than my tech-savvy friends. It requires my friends to have a smartphone or a laptop to function. It has no presence in my local town hall meetings or sports clubs or down at the boat club. It would have to saturate these areas of life with Facebook representatives that get people hooked up. It isn't a technological problem, it is a feet-on-ground people problem. One company is not going to hook up the world, from Russia to China to India to Brazil to South Africa to the USA. It will take many companies working on a common social-graph fabric to make this work. Locking it all up in Facebook, invisible to Google and other web-miners, is a short-term idea.

  • Hi Paul – you explain their challenge well, and they may well fail to meet it. A couple of thoughts in response:
    – they already have 200m users which is c20% of the broadband world, and grwoing fast – so they could get to the penetration you describe, and Facebook Connect will help. They are mainstream already.
    – it will start with local critical mass in communities where penetration is high, and spread from there

    Re local competition, they have a scale and sophistication that will make them hard to compete with. Plus they can acquire.

  • Indeed, if anyone is going to achieve it then Facebook would be the one. My emotional response is negative to this though, I don't want Facebook being the sole technological social-graph provider of my community, province and country. I feel that we have a better chance of achieving a worthwhile technological social-graph if the attempt involves many partners in an open system than one company in a closed system. Fads will affect Facebook too as will internal problems. If all the effort is contained within one company then when the mood of the connected world changes that effort will be lost. If it is spread amongst a community of providers and technologies then much of the effort can be retained and transferred. It will take a humbler, longer-term thinking techno-oligarchy than Zuckerberg and FB for this to happen though. They will make their attempt, they may succeed for a short-while but ultimately the web and its connected people will outlast any one Facebook or Google.

  • True enough! And I have yet to hear them talking about importing social graph data implicit in email traffic and mobile phone logs – both important sources of data.

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