Facebook’s insecurities vs Google’s woes

May 12th, 2011

Google knows what you search, when you search, what video you watched & shared and possibly from where you logged on. On the other hand, Facebook knows who your friends are, what you did in that weekend party, what news or information you shared between your friends and what apps you frequented on the social media site.

In short, between the two companies, each knows a good deal about you and your life online. But each company wants to control more and that’s what is causing the new digital age war.

And the bone of contention is who should get the lion’s share of online advertising (that will be targeted at you). Facebook’s 600 million members give the social media website ample data on what an user is looking for online and this allows Facebook to sell targeted advertising. It also makes Facebook a huge rival to Google who makes its livelihood from selling advertising.

Now, Facebook’s collection of data is commonly labeled as the “social graph.” And now Google wants to create its own social graph from its users. It is this social graph that is the crux of a social web presence. Consumers are and will continue to dominate what has value online as they choose where to spend money and time.

Google is desperate to break into the social platform. Remember Orkut where Google wanted us to “make friends” or Picasa where it wanted us to “share albums” or Wave or more recently Buzz where no one knew what Google meant. None made any sense, since people continued to prefer Facebook for all the different products that Google launched. In its latest effort to enter the social space, Google’s +1, which is a button next to the blue links on Google Search results, allows users to say — in Google marketing’s words — “this is something you should check out.” When you click the button, Google tells your friends, family, and the rest of the world that you recommended the link. (Sounds uncannily like Facebook’s ‘Like button?’)
When you +1 something, your recommendation is not only noted under that specific search result, but also with your Google Profile. But my problem here is that not many people probably are even aware that they have a Google Profile already if they are using Gmail, Youtube, personalised Google search, Buzz or Orkut.
If Google manages to position its +1 as a new social voting mechanism that will impact search results for users, there’s no doubt that publishers will want implement it. But what good will it do to users? In the meantime, Facebook reigns as the king of social and more importantly the “Like” button.

But something is making Facebook uneasy too. Newsweek reveals in its blogs that, “somebody [Facebook] hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.” The blog post further reveals, “Last month, Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page sent out a memo telling everyone at Google that social networking was a top priority for Google—so much so that 25 per cent of every Googler’s bonus this year will be based on how well Google does in social.” That’s desperate.

Various estimates suggest that last year, Facebook raked in $1.86 billion in advertising dollars, accounting for 4.7 per cent of total digital ad spend and will take in an estimated $4 billion for 2011. And, while Facebook has a 23.1 per cent share of display ads, Google Sites have just 2.7 per cent. All this because Facebook can promise better targeted advertisements to its advertisers and serves about 39 billion impressions each month.

Facebook’s ’social search’ was approved in February of 2010, after seven years in the US patent office — allowing users to access data from Facebook home pages. (They already have a search engine partnership with Bing, but it only shows links that users share on Facebook.) And, as seems to be the general trend with the web, search will probably become more social.

Personally, I am convinced that Facebook will add features that will let me search the web while staying on Facebook and at the same time, Google will multiply the features that will help me connect to friends online with just a click. That said, there do appear to be a lot of “misses” when it comes to Google coming out with innovative products – have they lost touch with what we’d want in a social network?

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