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Most who follow the tech industry know that Google and Facebook are in the throes of mutual combat, but few seem to see the strategic reason that Google is so deathly afraid of Facebook.
Google is Google, right? They’re invincible! Who could possibly threaten them in search, right? Well, that’s missing the point. Google’s problem is that better search just isn’t enough anymore.
Remember what they’re fighting for
Recall that an Internet company’s currency is its number of active users. As that goes up a company becomes more powerful, and as it goes down it feels it–especially if they left for a competitor.
Well, Google is doing just fine there–everyone uses it constantly. It’s basically Internet infrastructure at this point. But many of those same people also use Facebook, and the key is that they’re being used in different ways. The nature of that difference is what has Google panicking.
In short, people use Google to find something and then return to what they were doing online. It’s a tool to help you achieve your Internet goal. Facebook, on the other hand, IS what they’re doing online. It’s not a tool, it’s a destination.
So–and here’s the crux of it–what happens when you can search the Internet from Facebook? Think about that. It’s Google’s absolute nightmare scenario.
Facebook as the center of the Internet ecosystem
Google’s problem is that people get online to go to Facebook anyway. Their friends and family are the core of their life, so it’s natural that it would be the center of their digital life as well.
So, why not have a big search bar at the top of Facebook? Want to buy something? Looking to go to a movie? Want to know who to vote for? Need a recipe? Whatever you need you will be able to get from Facebook soon–but with a difference: Facebook’s results will be customized for you with up to date information about your social circle as a context layer on the results.
When you search for books, you may get Amazon results, but included will be a list of your friends who also read the book, or are currently reading it. Want to chat with them real quick about it? Well it turns out Facebook is good at that.
Now apply that to everything–from going to a movie where you can see Rotten Tomatoes scores vs. what your friends rated it, to picking a car, or deciding where to live. You basically won’t have to leave Facebook, and you won’t want to because when you do the results you get back will be sterile in comparison.
Google becomes a one-trick search pony
In this future (which Facebook is working tirelessly to make a reality) it becomes annoying to use Google because you have to leave Facebook and then come back to it. Google becomes a necessary aggravation–a standalone, one-off search utility that sits completely out of band from your regular Internet experience.
That scares Google, and it should. This is the exact reason they came up with and forced Google+ upon us with such ferocity: they’re trying to build their own version of a place where people go just to hang out, where all your friends are…where you never want to leave. They tried to build themselves a Facebook, and they failed.
One way to think about this is to say that Facebook has the social/Internet destination and needs some search technology to top it off, while Google has great search technology but lacks the actual place people would want to spend extended periods of time. Stated more directly, Google is more or less screwed as soon as Facebook can achieve even 70% of Google’s search quality within Facebook itself.
So the next time you see Facebook add some new kind of “social search” functionality, and someone asks, “What the heck are they doing with that thing?”, you’ll know the answer:
Facebook is working to make Google completely irrelevant.