Tracking the Google vs. Facebook Race

On this blog, I have been keenly observing the race between Google and Facebook towards a relevant real-time, opining earlier that Google Social Search is likely to win in the long run.

New developments in this race:

This race is not about reading news, but whether you spend more time searching on Google or browsing Facebook. It is about whether you seek out information on the web, or prefer to consume interesting content shared by your friends.

Opinions from the blogosphere lie at both ends of the spectrum. Scoble talked about the expanding Google reef with anticipation, while Mark Hopkins asks if we should give up on Google as a social entity. Others reveal Google’s stealth social network and speculate on a Facebook phone. And while this post was being written, Scoble has discussed how Google is taking on both Apple and Facebook and is rooting for them to win.

Google’s Social Challenge

Will Google’s approach to social networking work? Will Google’s SWAT team help? See these 5 observations about the difference between Facebook and Google Social Search. As expected, when it comes to Search, Google has the upper edge in relevancy. But the problem?

Remember the iPad demo? Steve Jobs demoed Facebook, not Google Search. Engagement on social networks is affecting the search business, as Tac Anderson observed. The rest of them use computers because their friends do, and they do that to see what their friends on Facebook are up to, not to search for information on Google.

Another issue with the Google Social Circle is that Facebook and other social networks have conditioned people into adding friends. How do I add a friend to my Google Social Circle? Expect a backlash from some people: “Google doesn’t allow me to choose my friends, or friends of friends”. Google’s Social Circle is a concept that may appeal only to geeks. If users are dissatisfied with their social search results, they’ll turn to Facebook and ask their friends. That will be much simpler than trying to understand and tweak your social circle.

Google is walking on thin ice here, while Facebook is on firm ground.

Facebook’s Challenge?

It is obvious that Facebook has already won the social networking war. It is years ahead of Google in the social race. So has it won the war? Not yet.

Google is years ahead of Facebook in making money and running a steady profitable business.

Why is this important? Because Facebook and Twitter will always be crappy businesses, says the founder of Tripod, Bo Peabody, in a not-surprisingly unpopular post. Risk averse advertisers stick with tried-and-tested search advertising, and are hesitant with social networks where content is not controlled and businesses have to confront real-time negativity. Even high-profile users are complaining about obnoxious ads in social networks.

Who Will Win?

Search vs. Discovery, Seeking Information vs. Following People, are all different terms for the same two sides of the coin. My take is that both will continue to remain important and popular ways of accessing the web. This leaves room for both Facebook and Google to coexist and profit.

Facebook has a long way to go before it is a sustainable business, while Google has a long way to go in the social web. I am on Google’s side, because I distrust Facebook (for e.g. it’s non-portable data portability), and support Google’s SWAT team.

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  • http://www.louisgray.com/live/ Louis Gray

    Facebook today cannot act as a comprehensive news reader. Google Reader beats them on functionality in every way. Where they can “win” is on volume. If they have enough visitors, they can redefine what is perceived as the way to consume news. That Google and Facebook will increasingly compete on other markets is practically guaranteed.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    All the biggest players on the web are no more durable than small players. While
    Google and Facebook have massive datacenters to manage “their” IP the web continues to evolve. Data is being generated at a faster rate and by more individuals. The value of network connections, social relationships, and search have yet to be full realized.

    We'll learn much by watching how these monolithic information businesses pivot as the landscape changes. I'm rooting for federated and distributed authority and value sharing. A web meritocracy for info sharing.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thanks, Louis. You know I practically 'live' Google Reader day-in and day-out. :)

    Since the 'news feed' or 'stream based flow' is becoming de-facto in social networks, it will indeed be interesting if Google comes up with something similar (as Scoble says he is hearing from Googlers).

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Interesting POV, Mark, but I suspect monolithic businesses will continue to dominate being the #1-3 top destinations on the web. Reasons?

    1. All browsers have 1 homepage.
    2. All browsers have 1 'default' search engine.
    3. Most mobile browsers have 1 tab, so you browse a single site at a time.
    4. Many tablets will support browsing only a single site at a time.

  • http://www.layeredbyte.com/ Holden Page

    First off, if I want anyone to win the social wars, I would want it to be Google. Like you, I distrust Facebook in extremes.

    This is just a “want” though and I highly doubt it will happen.

    Facebook is ingrained in our lives when it comes to connecting with friends, more so than I think you realize.

    Since I am still in High School and obviously have friends, often times when I take a picture with a friend they will say, “Yo, tag that” or “Bro, Facebook that.”

    It is just as common amongst people my age who say Google it.

    Facebook DOMINATES the social image, much like Google dominates the image of search. This is a hinderence for both companies since Facebook has a ton of data just waiting to be mined and Google already is great at mining tons of data but will kill to be more social.

    What it comes down to is our perceptions, and not your perception, Mahendra. Or even Robert's, Marshall's and Louis. It comes down to the current 21 year olds and younger and right now their perception is:

    Facebook = Social

    Google = Search

    and that's not changing ANYTIME soon.

    Bummer for both of them, I guess

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Holden:

    Thanks for sharing the perceptions among the younger generation. I fully agree that it is the case. However, I don't agree that that perception is to be given more weight.

    Those who used the web before the dot com boom and bust cycle know how things can change rapidly. There was a time when Yahoo=Search, and Geocities & Tripod were to us folks, what Facebook is to you, at present.

  • http://www.layeredbyte.com/ Holden Page

    The problem is do you recall investing so much time into Geocities/Tripod as us younger folk do in Facebook?

    I know I keep up with a lot of my friends, especially ones from out of town using Facebook. I have a much deeper dependance on Facebook than I think many people did when it came to Geocities and various other popular networks “back in the day.”

    Correct me if I am wrong though, not like I was really active back in Geocities hayday lol

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    In terms of proportion of “time spent on these sites vs. total time spent online”, yes. Anyway, I agree we're not going to see anything change anytime soon, as you said.

    I have also stated in my post that Facebook has already won the social war. Whether it succeeds in relegating Google to obscurity is another story, which we need to wait and see. But I don't think it will.

  • http://www.layeredbyte.com/ Holden Page

    Well the space is only going to get more competitive, according to Mash Gmail is going to get a nice boost of social as well: http://mashable.com/2010/02/08/gmail-social/

    If done correctly, this could be a very interesting little battle. Especially since Facebook looks like they are moving into email as well.

    Ah, what fun 😀

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