Google vs. Facebook, Let The Battle Rage

30 Jun

Facebook_vs_googleWhat’s your choice, people or computers? Anonymous or friends? Google or Facebook?

There is a growing awareness that the battle of the future isn’t Microsoft vs. Google. Rather it is Google vs. Facebook. And the winner will be determined in large part by how people want to organize, search and interact online.

There are two great synopses of the looming battle, Wired Magazine’s and a report by Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang. It’s worth taking the time to read them in that order. Wired does a great job of outlining Facebook’s battle plan. Owyang build a very compelling case for a Facebook victory.

If Google seems too big and too dominant to be challenged by something as whimsical as Facebook, then it’s time to think again. Consider the following:

  • Facebook has 200 million members, people who use their own names, real email addresses and rich profiles of varying depth. That’s one-fifth of the Internet population.
  • Those members spend an average of 20 minutes on the site, DAILY.

Google virtually owns the search world. But what does it know about its members? I have subscribed to almost all Google’s products, but it doesn’t know my real name. Nor does it have a clue what I like to do on weekends, or where my friends live.

There’s even a very strong privacy element in the mix. Search my name on Google and you find out whatever is publicly available. I have no say, nor is there context to what you find. Search my name on Facebook and I have to let you into my network before you learn anything. But, you will get a much richer picture of my life.

In media terms, Google can tell you what I search for, and offer text ads to capture my interest. Facebook can tell you what my interests are, and show me ads based on my lifestyle, demographics and anything else I’ve disclosed.

When I’m online considering a purchase Google can tell me how hundreds of others rate the experience of an online merchant I am considering. Facebook can let me ask hundreds of my friends if any of them have experience with a merchant, online or off line, I am considering.

That’s the key to Facebook’s battle plan, according to Wired. It breaks down the Facebook plan into four steps.

1. Build critical mass. In the eight months ending in April, Facebook has doubled in size to 200 million members, who contribute 4 billion pieces of info, 850 million photos, and 8 million videos every month. The result: a second Internet, one that includes users’ most personal data and resides entirely on Facebook’s servers.

2. Redefine search. Facebook thinks its members will turn to their friends—rather than Google’s algorithms—to navigate the Web. It already drives an eyebrow-raising amount of traffic to outside sites, and that will only increase once Facebook Search allows users to easily explore one another’s feeds.

3. Colonize the Web. Thanks to a pair of new initiatives—dubbed Facebook Connect and Open Stream—users don’t have to log in to Facebook to communicate with their friends. Now they can access their network from any of 10,000 partner sites or apps, contributing even more valuable data to Facebook’s servers every time they do it.

4. Sell targeted ads, everywhere. Facebook hopes to one day sell advertising across all of its partner sites and apps, not just on its own site. The company will be able to draw on the immense volume of personal data it owns to create extremely targeted messages. The challenge: not freaking out its users in the process.

Want a dose of irony? Facebook team members consider Google antiquated.

“Up until now all the advancements in technology have said information and data are the most important thing,” says Dave Morin, Facebook’s senior platform manager. “The most important thing to us is that there is a person sitting behind that keyboard. We think the Internet is about people.”

One more thought. This isn’t just a battle for whose login and search engine you use. This is a battle that will affect how virtually every web site is developed and used.

Owyang’ research predicts that a new web standard will emerge that allows users on closed networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to talk to their friends on other networks. You see this already starting with programs like Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect.

And once you’re connected, you’ll be able to access your friends from any site, any time. Shopping for a father’s day gift? You can ask all the men on your friends list, or Twitter followers what they think. Considering a book on Amazon? Query your more literate friends to see if any of them have read it.
The experience doesn’t have to be limited to shared real-time experiences.

As you visit a site you will be able to leave behind comments that will pop up any time your friends come onto that site. No longer will you have to go to review sites, the reviews will come to your sites, and they’ll be from the people you know.

The expansion of social networks means you’ll also have a right to expect much more from the sites you visit. If you choose, pertinent details from your profile can be shared. Maybe you’re shopping for new tennis shoes, and your profile notes you’re training for a marathon. The store will need to customize on the fly to give you the most relevant choices first.

Do I care if Facebook or Google wins. Not at all. In the end I’ll get a much better, more intuitive web experience.  I’ve got some ideas on how to get ready for all this.

But that’s another post.

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