Google VS Facebook: A Battle Over The Internet’s Architecture

This is the second part of a three-part post series, trying to analyze the future of social media and the web. In part I, we examined what tools Facebook has to make it a dominant force on the internet and in our lives. In part II, we analyze the battle over the architecture of the Internet. In part III, we will try to see into the future and I’ll make some wild claims about Twitter – and try to prove them too. Stay tuned.

Google Is The Source To The Internet

There is no doubt that Google is the dominant force on the Internet. Most people don’t understand how the internet works. They can’t tell the difference between a search engine and a browser. When Google is down, they think the Internet is broken. In their minds, Google is the internet.

When I need something, Google directs me there. Google is the traffic cop of the Internet. From Google’s point of view, they are the source, pointing out to all the other sites.

Notice these attributes:

  • Switching cost is low – If a new search engine will produce slightly better results, switching to it is easy. I just replace my home page. Boom. Switched.
  • Ecology is loosely coupled – Google depends on the sites it indexes to survive. The site creator does not. If Google’s search engine disappears, others will take its place (Bing comes to mind). The site does not depend on Google.
  • Spam is getting worse – Google is fighting a battle against SEO experts, who try to game the system. The algorithm that once revolutionized the search engine business, is slowly losing its grip. The basics of the search engine has stayed the same for so long, spam is getting worse (or better, depends on your side of the table, I suppose).

Facebook Creates An Internet Mesh

In Part I, I’ve discussed how Facebook is integrating with other services. In fact, some services exists solely inside Facebook (FarmVille is a dominant example). The interaction with Facebook is bi-directional, and it creates a much stronger dependency.

Facebook’s Internet is different:

  • Switching costs are high – If another social network comes in, it better have all my friends there. If I’m the only one using it, it has very little value for me. Network effects are what pushed me to move from ICQ to MS Messenger to Google Talk. One day, I had more friends on one network than on the other, and then I switched.
    Also, I’d lose my Internet identity, with so many sites connected to my Facebook profile, it is almost unimaginable.
  • Ecology is tightly coupled –  There’s all this code written to integrate well with the Facebook Feed, with Facebook Connect, with Facebook Credit. Any competitor will really have to provide some very serious ROI benefits for a site or service to move. The ecology around Facebook has an interest in Facebook continued success much more than Google’s ecology.
  • Spam is getting worse – Well, you can’t win it all. But it still should be easier to detect, as Facebook has much more information about its users (real and fake).

Not A Winner Takes All

I interact with these two services in a profoundly different way. What am I searching for? Let’s see: documentation, product, product, documentation, how-to, cryptic error message, a blog post I read once that I vaguely remember a bit of and I want to quote in a post. It’s all very static. I don’t use search engines to find things of interest. They come to me.

I have streams for that. The Facebook feed (“Yo, check out this commercial, it’s hilarious for realzees”), Twitter (“OMG, somebody posted something on TechCrunch“), my RSS Reader (“Google Aligning Its Starts And Applications“). New stuff is coming my way, but old stuff stays at the same place. Google is my memory bank. Facebook is my sensory input.

They are both useful, but a paradigm shift is occurring. Search engines were the lords of the Internet for a decade, but like the portals, they will give way to something new. It is going to be very hard to remain rich and powerful as a search engine. Google better get new revenue streams fast.

The Twitter Conundrum

For a long while, when I was asked what I think of Facebook, my answer was: “meh“. I didn’t get it. Everybody was signing up, but there really wasn’t much to do. It was good for coordinating events and sharing images. It took some serious competition from Twitter to force Facebook to innovate the home page. Now, with the feed in place, I think Facebook is awesome. Twitter? Meh.

As for Google, the flimsy implementation of Buzz is, most likely, a response to the hype around Twitter. Google should direct its efforts against Facebook. Why is this not obvious? Because technology is only interesting when it is boring. I’ll explain this remark in Part III: The Hype Cycle, in which I’ll explain how reading the news distorts the judgment of decision makers, and how this gives Facebook a fighting chance before everyone catches on. Also, as promised, I’ll try and predict the future of Twitter in all this mess.