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.

  • Pingback: Facebook Is Going To Be The Next Big Thing. Again. | Re-gur-gi-tate (n) | Omer Gertel()

  • One huge difference between the Facebook feed and Twitter, one which Facebook cannot (and should not even try to) emulate, is that Twitter privacy is inverted from Facebooks… by default, everything you post is public. Even if you are not following someone you can follow the threads of a conversation backwards to the originator, and you can, if you like, decide to follow someone one way (ie. not requiring their approval).

    Facebook serves one cluster (“friends”), Twitter another (giant public park filled with soapboxes), and never the twain shall meet.

    Plus, thank God, I don’t ever get inundated with stories of Mafia Wars or Farmville on Twitter. :)

  • sagivmalihi

    You’re talking as if it was still 1999 and google was just a search engine…
    and Michael – Facebook has all the infrastructure it needs to give you a feed just like Twitter’s (think of the ‘become a fan of..’ mechanism) – I really don’t see why anyone is still using twitter (except they probably have a very comfortable API for s/w developers).

  • I didn’t really understand the comparison. You showed two distinctly different use cases for Google and for Facebook. I can’t reallly imagine using Facebook and leveraging my friend to help me decode a compilation error. And I am not planning to use Google to find out what parties my friends are attending.

    I demand a clarification ! :)

  • Sagiv, Google isn’t just a search engine, but a significant amount of its cash flow comes from ads on search pages. My claim is that they will have to diversify to stay as profitable as they are. I think the search market is going to get downsized (I also think that’s why Google is claiming that the desktop is irrelevant).

    Boris, you are correct. These are two separate use cases, however, they are not that interesting. Google makes money from ads when the user has buying intent. In the last part I explained how Facebook can “steal” a lot of buying intent. In this part I tried to explain why Facebook has a chance of becoming part of the Internet’s technological stack.
    The Google search engine is replaceable. Facebook, not as much.

  • Love this Post!

    Especially your social media research! you invested a lot of time into it.

    How do you feel about the need to manage your online relationship ? Do you consider facebook the hub for social communication via social channels consolidation.

  • Sharel, Thanks. Let me rant a bit about your question. I’ll turn it into a blog post sometime.

    My close circle is very Facebook oriented. I use Twitter for following (stalking?) some technological folk, but I rarely engage on it. I can’t cold call them on the phone or with an email, so how is this more acceptable? It just is, but I still feel awkward about it.

    For my personal life, I’m still missing a tool to bring it all into a single spot. Here’s the dream: One stream of items, pulled from Facebook, Twitter, Buzz, Reader, Gmail, Wave, etc. Duplicates are dealt with (so if I have a person on Twitter and Facebook posting the same link/status, I’ll only see it once). Interactions are all in the form of threaded conversations. This applies to Twitter, but also to emails and RSS items. A comment on an email become a reply. RSS items’ threads have comments from the blog, references from Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, Hacker News, backtracks, etc.
    The services are all there, but I can’t go follow them all, just like I couldn’t follow many blogs until RSS was available. The proliferation of sites is costing all of them. Most of them should be plug-ins in a bigger system.

  • Interesting post. I am worried though that you have Facebook for your sensory input.
    Your analysis lacked any mention of mobile web – and that is going to be the biggest thing in the coming years. And while Google has a lot for it going in their mobile aspirations (Android, Google Voice,, Maps, Street View, Local businesses, and the list goes on), Facebook has an iPhone app to boast.

    My feeling is that Facebook is in much shakier position than Google. Not only they are not prepared for the mobile web, they lack any vision and leadership. I wrote about their internal troubles here: (shameless self-promotion Begin)
    (shameless self-promotion End)

  • I know. I think mobile is on the Hype, right now. Everybody says mobile Internet will change our lives. It probably will, but it will take time. I guess, about 5-10 years. A lot can change in 5 years.
    The Facebook app on your iPhone is not as important as the bunch of iPhone apps you use that’ll have Facebook Connect integrated in them. Or the fact you don’t use a credit card anymore, but pay through your Facebook Credit mobile app. You see, they don’t have to do much to be very important.
    I’ll explain, on part III, about why we should be careful of the hype, and why we over-estimate change. This is why I believe Mobile Internet is still far ahead.

  • Pingback: Twitter Will Make Money (Just Not That Much) | Re-gur-gi-tate (n) | Omer Gertel()

  • Promotional Products

    I believe Google will always be unbeatable… even though Facebook comes closer in competition with Google, we must remember that Facebook is defined as a social network & Google is apparently a search engine. Therefore, both have altogether a different purpose.