Ronnie05's Blog

Facebook and Google on collision course (Part II)

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on June 8, 2011

Reliving an earlier post about the rivalry between Google and Facebook.

When Google was born, its advantage stemmed from its ability to collect and analyze superior data. While other publishers looked myopically at each page on the Web as a standalone realm, Google found that the link relationships between those pages held more valuable relevance data than the pages themselves. All of a sudden, the isolated views of players like AltaVista and Yahoo began to look one-dimensional. And ownership of what is now the $20-billion-plus search advertising market was cemented.

Google was envied, loved, hated, and revered. The vast digital empire that Eric Schmidt commanded has one of the most intricate monopolies of all time, the most impressive dataset the world had ever seen; the most sophisticated algorithm to make sense of it; an audience of a billion users expressing their interest; and more than a million advertisers bidding furiously to reach those consumers at just the right moment. Google had perfected its game: increasing returns to scale. Google’s business strength was simply taken for granted; so much so that even deep-pocketed competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft stopped trying to outdo Google’s massive scale and core algorithmic know-how. Google competed on being smarter. It was. And it won. And that’s why Google was unstoppable.

And then Facebook happened! Facebook focused on enabling social connections, not on search. And yet, in the process, Facebook created a platform that knows 700 million people, complete with identity, interests, and activities online. The company’s relentless and organic expansion—from an application to an emergent social operating system—has enabled it to know its users, not only on the domain, but also on other sites, as they travel throughout the Internet.

If Google’s business was built on choosing which Web pages, out of all those in the universe, are most likely to appeal to any given (but anonymous) query string, Facebook already knows, for the most part, which pages appeal to whom—specifically and directly. Facebook’s data allows it to do more than just guess what its customers might be interested in; the company’s data can help it know with greater certainty what its customers are really interested in. And this key difference could potentially give Facebook a tremendous advantage in search when it eventually decides to move in that direction. While Google has amassed an incredible database consisting of the fossilized linkages between most Web pages on the planet, Facebook possesses an asset that’s far more valuable—the realtime linkages between real people and the Web.

Facebook knows each individual and collective behavior patterns well enough to predict what users will like even without actively expressing intent. Facebook can apply science that is analogous to what Amazon uses to massively increase purchase likelihood by suggesting and responding to every minute interactive cue. Whereas Amazon relies on aggregate behavior, Facebook adds in the intimate patterns of each individual—along with their friends and the behavioral peers they’ve never met all around the world. And each of them is logged in and identified as a real person.

A break-up of its subscribers is something that Google will draw a nought about.

Google’s revered and unparalleled dataset is increasingly dating itself outshined by the freshness of the living, breathing organism that is the social Web. Google has almost no first-hand knowledge of any of the users who created this content—or those who are searching for it. Despite the fact that Google goes to great lengths to keep its index fresh by indexing pages that often change every hour, or even every few minutes, and despite its efforts at realtime search (including searching the Twitter firehose), its dominant dataset is dead, while the Web is—each day more so than the last—vibrantly and energetically alive.

In reality, it’s Google’s recognition that Facebook has the same kind of advantage over Google that Google is used to having over its competitors. Thus Google it appears is scared of Facebook and justifiably so. Google has tried adding dimensions to the itself and bridge the gap between social web and the search generation web. That’s where it launched its +1.But, if the truth be told, it will take far more than +1 to measure up to the whole new human dimension of the Internet. After all, the human organism is home territory for Facebook and utterly foreign turf for Google’s algorithmic machine.

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