Facebook – Google rivalry has Net at stake

I’m enjoying Net access on a Virgin flight to SF on FastIgnite and other business. While prepping for meetings with Thing Labs, Facebook and Mozilla I came across this Wired article on the mounting Facebook – Google rivalry. It’s a well-written piece that covers  the historical context of the rivalry and speculates about Facebook’s plan for online domination:

  1. Get scale in usage and aggregated data
  2. Redefine search via the social graph
  3. Colonize the Web through Facebook Connect and OpenStream
  4. Sell targeted ads everywhere

It is clear that the two companies are on a collision course and will both look for help and leverage in the upcoming battle. Beyond the well-identified brand advertising + search + communication tools + social graph battle lines there are two that merit a bit more analysis and some wild guesses:

  • The real-time Web is becoming more important. That’s why both went after Twitter and, of course, why Twitter rebuffed both. (Nothing like a horsy race, especially when you don’t need to exit. Yes, Twitter knows they have to manage hosting/traffic costs.) Now both FB and Google are busy adding capabilities around real-time content contribution/sharing/search.
  • More general search. If FB is to redefine search, it needs to be able to handle a reasonably set of search queries. Google’s core technology and reach have an overwhelming advantage here. FB has great data but even at their scale it is very difficult to create a great user experience for search. People come to a search box with diverse intent. Therefore, intent discovery is one of the most important and hardest problems for a search engine to solve. Through its richer UI and tracking capabilities FB has an advantage is discovering intent. However, if the intent and/or the search query cannot be satisfied easily within the agregated dataset of friend activity there is a problem. Also there is the expert gap–my friends may not be the experts. Wild guess: Facebook may partner with Microsoft, which is eager to give Bing more momentum, or another search player to create a more compelling search experience within FB.  Or they may really redefine search to establish a clear psychological contract with users about what FB search is all about. Either way, it will be interesting to watch.
  • Desktop access. I was excited when Facebook acquired ParaKey. It was a brillian strategic move, Facebook’s Secret Plan v2.0. Desktop data and flexible offline access to online services is very important. Google clearly has the leadership now with Google Gears and Chrome. Google Apps help indirectly by moving the data to the cloud. I am disappointed that for two years we haven’t seen anything come out the Parakeyacquision. Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt are still at FB. Joe is doing some very cool work on the iPhone app and something secret (hopefully desktop-related). Blake’s been so busy he stopped paying his hosting fees.

Ultimately, the Net doesn’t want to be owned by anybody. We are witnessing the wearing off of Google’s goodwill as their hold on non-brand advertising solidifies. The same is likely to happen with Facebook if they aggregate tons more user data and continue to make it difficult to export/share/operate.

So, who’s going to balance out the power of Facebook and Google? One obvious answer is Microsoft. As the underdog in the online space, the company will be willing to play by new rules. When threatened MS rallies and responds well. Well, at least they did. A lot of people have left. Next is perhaps an unlikely candidate–the Mozilla Foundation. With its significant browser share Mozilla has a huge role to play in the evolution of data ownership, privacy and advertising. In fact, this will be the topic of my conversation with CEO John Lilly tomorrow. Apple has a role to play.

About to land. Enough for now.

About Simeon Simeonov

I'm an entrepreneur, hacker, angel investor and reformed VC. I am currently Founder & CTO of Swoop, a search advertising platform. Through FastIgnite I invest in and work with a few great startups to get more done with less. Learn more, follow @simeons on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn.
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3 Responses to Facebook – Google rivalry has Net at stake

  1. larrycheng says:

    Sim – I don’t get it though I’ve read the wired article and various blogs on this topic. I do 98% of my searches on Google. Maybe 2% on twitter. And 0% on FB. What % of your searches are on FB?

  2. Larry, don’t think about the present. Think about the future. Facebook would want you to ask your friends, for example, about a dentist recommendation rather than looking for a top-rated dentist through Google. It’s a significant behavioral shift. It is possible IMO but only if the FB search can become reasonably generic or else people will never think of it as search per se but as a special-purpose recommendation app.

  3. Vivek Puri says:

    Sim, In my PoV, new players succeed in following scenarios – Incumbent with high cost(Siebel-Salesforce, NyTimes_classifieds-Craigslist), existing players not maintaining or dying – Maven networks, tons of money in advertising(Bing – hasn’t succeeded, but at least traffic is up), hosted-downloaded(wordpress), opensource-proprietary(jboss..). And Facebook has added a new criteria – build hosting scale. Given they have mastered this, I suspect FB to launch out-n-out search engine, as compared to trying to improve the social search.

    Reasoning behind this – sum of my questions every day is far more than what my friends on FB know and would ever know. Like you are not my friend on Facebook. So are tons of other people who indirectly answer our questions via google. I dont think all of them can ever be our friends, and i dont really want them to be for answering 1 time questions. As for asking social questions – like, best place to eat in NYC, best view of Grand Canyon, …., there have been facebook apps like – My Questions(from Slide.com, now deadpooled) and new playser – vark.com. But that’s like Yahoo Answers. All that means – if you really want good results on FB, add tons of friends or everyone is everyones friend. And that is not going to happen

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