For the last three years I’ve listened to the debate about whether Facebook will be around, much less dominant in 10 years, and if you asked me the question last month my answer would have been yes. However, if you asked me that question anytime this past week my response has changed. Dramatically.
Google has been the exact opposite. They don’t change the interface; it’s a search box (it took 10 years for me to be able to put a picture on that page). They add features in “beta” and test them for years before they roll them out to everyone. Search results may be updated on a regular basis with slight tweaks to the algorithm, but in such subtle ways that they truly offer refined value to the consumer without causing mass hysteria. When Google does do something big, they tell you about it and offer you the chance to prepare and ease into it. When Facebook makes a change, its summarily adopted overnight and that’s that. You have no say in the matter.
What’s truly most disturbing, and what cannot be forgiven (most of the issues above are basically changes in design and can be forgiven) is that Facebook messes with privacy and Google rarely does. Facebook’s means of generating revenue is by guessing who I am and what I like based on what I post. It’s implied targeting. Google’s means of generating revenue comes from stated requests for information. That’s search targeting. Google does have a behavioral, privacy-threatening component in some of their mail ads, but for the most part they’re still based on keywords and not by scraping personal data. It’s still fundamentally targeting by content rather than audience. Google’s hat is hung squarely on the hook of search, whereas Facebook’s hat is hanging by a thread to the hook of privacy and inter-personal communications.
Another contradiction between Google and Facebook is that Google came out almost as an altruistic effort to organize the world’s information (and, of course, “do no evil”). They gave away search functionality to sites, they gave away search to users, and they fostered an image of usefulness and respect by their peers. From day one, with Zuckerberg’s attitude and approach, Facebook came off as antagonistic, selfish, and only in it for the money. When they released Facebook connect to the world, attempting to expand the social graph and make it easier for the world to share information, they did so by stating this would give them more access to more information. It came off positive at first, but companies understand there was never an altruistic idea behind that move.
Maybe it’s simply my perception, but for the first five years of Google’s life, they did everything right. They came off altruistic, mutually beneficial, and simple. From inception, Facebook has come off as greedy, immature, and only in it for themselves. Google’s pledge was to the consumer, whereas Facebook’s pledge was for its shareholders. I understand that this is a business, but if you look at how Google did it and where they are now, it’s hard to argue success. In the tangible world it’s the difference between Apple and Microsoft. Google and Apple feel like brothers of another mother whereas Facebook and Microsoft feel like a match-made-in-heaven.
So if you ask me where things will be in 5-10 years, I have to think predict that Facebook will lose some of its luster and position in the marketplace. It’s not to say that someone else will come along and replace them as the giant of the social web. It’s more to say that something will come along and change the way we view the social web, and Facebook might get left in the dust.
Or maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?