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.