Google v Facebook - The Birth Of The Digital Age

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Published: 03rd May 2013
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As long as we have had big companies, they have taken full advantage of the progresses made in the technology of the day. For example, Getty Oil, a decade after WWII took full advantage of the booming economy and the fresh industrial growth. J Paul Getty, worth just $1.2 billion at the pinnacle of his wealth, was the wealthiest man in the world. All through history, a variety of companies that trade across a whole lot of industries have ridden the same wave.

Not even Getty could have foreseen that the biggest companies at the dawn of the 21st century would not deal in any tangible products whatsoever, but in providing access to data. For our time, that would be Facebook and Google.

However too many online bloggers tend to pit the two directly against each other. This is similar to the way in which Microsoft and Adobe crossed over into the target markets traditionally associated with the other. Yet this short competition fizzled out, and Microsoft went back to being an operating system company while Adobe went back to desktop publishing.

Google and Facebook have made matching light overtures towards approaching the other’s market. Google is mostly a search engine and Facebook is a social network only. When compared, Google comes up as the company more able to bend and change having gotten a finger into everything from office suites in the Cloud and systems based on telemetrics. Google simply buys up innovations that it is unable to come up with itself, Blogger and YouTube are prize examples.

Google can sometimes seem a little more game than is good for it. It almost seems as though there are any number of services that Google has dropped over the years. It appears that they have a moderately dismal success rate when it comes to new offerings - it seems that only 20% work out. Facebook, on the other hand, is far more conservative and plays their game much closer with a reduced amount of risk.

From Small Seeds

There are areas in their past that both Facebook and Google share. Both Facebook and Google were started by college-bred whiz kids with a flair for computing. But one must not forget that Google got where it is today due to the first-class technology innovation of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, whereas Mark Zuckerberg won the lottery when his dorm project happened to explode. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, could be said simply to have been in the right place at the right time. That said Zuckerberg would surely have made some kind of mark considering that he displayed an early aptitude for programming. MySpace was the forerunner of Facebook and, should Facebook not have been developed, something else would have been.

Google, on the other hand, came into being because there was a hard need for a search engine that precisely and exhaustively indexed the web and presented the viewer with great results, and it took two vastly talented geniuses to come up with the solution for that conundrum. Before Google, searching the web was laborious and search engines like AltaVista, AskJeeves and Lycos were nothing to write home about. Google quickly blew the competition out of the way with a superior algorithm called "PageRank" as well as several other forward-looking concepts such as a "don't be evil" corporate philosophy and the realization that not every web search necessarily led to a sale, but that many web surfers were just looking to have a question answered.

Both Facebook and Google were built upon the back of free and open-source software. Linux, Firefox and the Apache web server all meet the bill and each is valuable in their own right. The end result of using free software as a foundation is that the company can be sure of a base that is stable and secure and are able to remain as flexible as possible.

According to Zuckerberg, Brin and Page, the idea is to make information more freely available. Both companies have also adhered to a strict moral high road, even turning down deals of making greater amounts of money if that compromised their moral character.

At Present

If you look at things from the media coverage that revolves around the two, Google and Facebook are about the same. In reality though, Google is a lot bigger than Facebook. Google's annual revenue is $38 billion; Facebook's is only $3.7 billion. In all metrics related to size and revenue, Facebook measures up as about exactly one-tenth as big as Google. Facebook does crush Google in one key area though – Facebook has 900 million users compared to the 170 million users of Google+.

Google has also expanded into markets that not technically within its area of expertise. Google Chrome entered the browser market and began to give Firefox a run for its revenue and even pushed Internet Explorer out of the number one spot. Its Android operating system for mobile phones - also based on the Linux operating system - has taken a huge bite out of the mobile market. When it comes to blogging, you could make a case for Blogger being one of the leading blogging platforms today. It can also be said that Gmail eclipsed Hotmail and Yahoo totally.

Do not be fooled – in a head to head contest, Facebook would be ruined. Those 170 million Google+ users are a real shock when you consider that Google has barely advertised or promoted Google+ in any real way. In fact, Google has to be careful how forcefully it plays with Facebook in the US and UK, lest it be called out in court for antitrust violations. The reason that they need to be cautious is because they pretty much monopolize or have a piece of many bits of the web networking already, including email, blogging, searching, etc. and this gives Google an advantage that could be deemed unfair. Merely by popping a Google+ link into every page of search results (numbering several hundred million per day), Google+ could catch up to Facebook without breaking sweat.

Facebook simply cannot compete effectively in a head to head contest – there is no useable strategy. They also do not seem to want to achieve much more than they already have. If they did try to expand into any kind of search field, they likely wouldn't make it. This is evidenced by Microsoft and their repeated attempts to takes Google’s spot as leader in the search field. If the biggest software company in the world can't come close to challenging Google's search, that tells you what Facebook's chances are.

You should, however, keep in mind that Google does not always win when it comes to fights for area dominance. Google tried for years to make online video content work with Google Video. In the end, they bought YouTube and phased out Google Video. Had YouTube followed Facebook’s example and refused to sell, Google would still not have made inroads into the online video field.

Going Forward

The fact that Google has large departments that work completely independent of each other is indicative of exactly how different these companies are. Google Docs, for instance, hardly ever has to worry about YouTube and vice versa. Facebook, on the other hand, is a single app written in PHP and compiled into a single "binary blob", which is then rolled out to its servers via BitTorrent. Just like the Facebook program itself, Facebook the company may always be content to be a one-trick pony.

Google is probably going to keep Google+ open in any event. We should bear in mind that Google may not have started Google+ with the intention of being competition to Facebook. There are, in fact, a couple of other possibilities :

1) Google already offered a number of different services to users such as YouTube, Gmail, etc. and wanted to allow users to have one place of entry to all services. In fact, this is how Google currently deploys Google+ - one can hop from their YouTube channel to their Gmail account to their blog and back again, all based on a single log-in. 2) They found it essential to expand in this direction in order to further fortify their brand – a number of online marketers have discovered how to optimize links in order to affect page rankings.

No dout the next big creation from Goggle will be Google Glass. Set for release sometime in 2013, the glasses have embedded augmented-reality display lenses so you're continuously connected when on the move.

Facebook, on the other hand, is not helpless. It has shown some innovation in the form of a type of blog platform, an instant messenger interface and its own version of email. What could be considered the most interesting advancement is a service that offers news feeds. Should Facebook consider increasing the scope of this feature, it could also offer news feeds, etc. and thus make an inroad into the news market and social bookmarking area. The offerings currently on the field in this arena are pretty hopeless – Digg.com failed and Reddit.com is likely to follow.

Facebook could certainly attempt to cash in on the social connection element in the future. It is not unrealistic to imagine everyone using Facebook as a “home” site allowing people to communicate through video calls, find companionship, as a platform to carry out business ventures or even to craft their profile so that it was a virtual resume. Facebook, a much younger company, has indeed only broken into the black ink in 2009, and only started trading public stock in 2012. It started to expand its business interests only recently by purchasing companies like Instagram, Divvy-shot and FriendFeed. Indications are that Facebook plans to expand more into the social networking arena.

The chances that Google will keep on expanding in an attempt to gain ground and hold onto it are high. The buzz about Google becoming the next Microsoft is by no means baseless. Google has, with Android no need to utilize Microsoft when it comes to the mobile platform. Google has shown interest in almost every application that makes use of a microchip and they have shown themselves to be vastly innovative and setting the pace. It appears that it is now unavoidable that Google will continue to be a big influence on technology, in the same way that Microsoft and IBM were, for many years to come.

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