First it was Yahoo vs. Google, then it became Google vs. Microsoft, and now it’s Google vs. Facebook. People love drama and journalists in particular seek to tell dramatic stories with uncertain outcomes. Regarding this most recent drama (Google vs. Facebook), Fortune magazine’s Josh Quittner writes about “Why Google is spooked by Facebook and would dearly love to squash it.”
The argument is that Google is not only losing talent to Facebook, but the latter is also seeking to create a Web 2.0 version of the old AOL: a self-contained environment where people can get all their business done and communicate with friends and family. Accordingly, the threat is that Google is somehow marginalized by this ever more encompassing experience.
While Google was late to the social media party, it has now found religion and is pursuing it earnestly, thinking about social networking and related concepts as an integral part of its strategy going forward. For example, the company just acquired Jaiku and Zingku, both mobile applications with community at their core.
While Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dismissed Facebook and social networking more generally as a fad, Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently spoke reverently of the page views it generates: “People don’t appreciate how many page views on the Internet are in social networks,” Mr. Schmidt told a group of reporters at the end of its Zeitgeist conference, a two-day gathering of an eclectic mix of Google partners, competitors, social activists, and politicians.
Social networks, he said, account for an “enormous proportion” of Internet usage. He added, “It is very real. It’s a very real phenomenon.”
Herein lies what might be called Google’s “Facebook envy.” Google could monetize those page views like almost no one else (save perhaps Yahoo). However, Microsoft is Facebook’s actual advertising partner.
But while Facebook’s reinvention of itself as a marketing platform for third parties was a veritable stroke of genius, what has come of it so far is less than totally impressive or useful. It’s still mostly about entertainment and novelty. There’s lots and lots of noise on the Facebook platform. Accordingly, the site is far less useful than Google and the various Google applications (e.g., mail, calendar, maps, docs, mobile, etc.)
While it may be stealing employees from Google (hoping to capitalize on an IPO) and may drive lots of page views, until Facebook truly provides utility to people in their daily lives it won’t be a substitute for Google (or Yahoo) — and won’t really be a threat.