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Facebook v Google for web control

Maggie Shiels | 09:27 UK time, Thursday, 22 April 2010

Mark Zuckerberg will soon hit the ripe old age of 26. And despite his youth, he clearly possesses no fear as he sets his company's sights on trying to wrest control of the internet from the search giant Google.

Mark ZuckerbergOver the last 10 years, Google's efforts at being the window to the web for hundreds of millions of users across the globe has turned it into a billion dollar company and of course a verb.

Now the six-year-old social networking giant is making a bid for the crown.

At its developer conference in San Francisco called F8, Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg arrived on stage in the typical Silicon Valley dressed down uniform of jeans and a black hoodie.

He came across as pretty awkward in front of an audience of 1,500. Then again most people would.

Regardless of that he pulled no punches in setting out his stall for the foreseeable future - a major, if not dominant, role in the future of the web which he said will be all about being social and using your friends to share and connect to a better quality of information which in turn will provide users with a better web experience.

In a blogpost he said "people are increasingly discovering information not just through links to web pages but also from the people and things they care about".

During his keynote speech, Mr Zuckerberg announced a number of products to aide and abet that approach.

They included an open graph protocol which lets partner sites leverage the user's social connections to make the site more relevant to the individual and their social network.

Mark ZuckerbergThen there is the "Like" button to let users rate that content by simply indicating they like something and letting their friends see that selection.

Proof of the power of this tool will soon be provided given that Mr Zuckerberg said that he reckoned one billion "Likes" will be served up in 24 hours.

Justin Smith ofInside Facebook told me he saw this as a win-win for businesses and Facebook.

"This will increase engagement and also make the type of information more interesting and therefore allow Facebook to grow and other publishers to increase engagement."

Facebook's plan "is really profound for us," said Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, an internet music streaming site that has more than 50m users, many of whom also use Facebook.

"Pandora is not all that human, there is no DJ, there is no voice in Pandora. This is going to put a face on it."

At the moment Facebook has over 400m users, but a survey by Comscore said it is hurtling towards the 500m figure at something approaching breakneck speed.

As Google focuses on making all the world's information accessible and searchable and doing it better and faster than anyone else, Facebook clearly believes friends are the best way to find the most relevant information.

"In the past the web has been defined by hyperlinks linking to static content," said Bret Taylor, head of Facebook Platform products. "We think social linking will have as big an impact on the web as hyperlinking did."

"Facebook wants to be the starting point for your world - the new e-mail inbox," Jeremiah Owyang, an internet analyst with the Altimeter Group, wrote on his blog.

"If they turn on advanced search tools, this can threaten All this social aggregated content will yield a powerful database of what you and your friends like, the precursor to customized web experiences and social advertising."

Make no mistake this is about Facebook taking on the might of Google, Om Malik of the tech site GigaOM told me.

"The thing is Google understands data very well, it doesn't understand people. I don't think that is a problem for Facebook who understand them almost too well. The Google web is about looking for things and the Facebook web is about serendipity."

In closing his keynote comments, Mr Zuckerberg tried to tell a story about his girlfriend who is at medical school and how the students viewed their professional duty to help sick people.

The story was hard to follow but the punch-line was easy to grasp and really expressed a lofty vision for the power of the web.

"There is an old saying that when you go to heaven all your friends are there and everything is the way you want it to be. Well together, let's make a world that good," urged Mr Zuckerberg.


  • 1. At 11:51am on 22 Apr 2010, Miraglyth wrote:

    Facebook may understand Facebook users "almost too well" but they don't understand the rest of us at all.

    Believe it or not there are internet users out there that know who our friends are without needing a website to tell us. We can share updates on our lives already, and unlike Facebook we can do so with a little thing called discretion.

    I'm fine with the idea of opt-in sharing of likes, but imagine if Facebook "took over the internet".

    Privacy would be thrown out the window. White lies between friends and relatives would become impossible, and perfectly good websites and businesses would go under if not enough people clicked the "Like" button.

    Getting a "profile" to join the Facebook Empire (and the torrent of animated eye-burning advertisements that come with it) would become a required step to internet access. Those of us who would only ever sign up when it becomes compulsory would find ourselves easy targets for online bullying (which would of course remain unmanaged) because we don't have 3,000+ e-friends.

    If Google are "the alternative" then I'll go with Google. But are they? I question that. The services seem separate to me. You'll never be able to get a comprehensive information search with Facebook if it only searches through things your friends like.

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  • 2. At 12:08pm on 22 Apr 2010, ian hawkins wrote:

    Facebook is for many a fad, for many more just a phone app that lets us keep up to date with family and friends. Whilst there is money to be made from advertising and facebook apps, most of us ignore them completely.
    Google on the other hand is much more than a search engine, the company drives forward technical innovation and consumer choice, usually at no cost to the consumer. Google for search, Chrome for browsing, Gmail, blogger for blogging, Picassa for photo management and sharing, Google maps and their free navigation for US and UK drivers, the list goes on.
    Facebook could fall out of favour tomorrow, just as have Bebo and Myspace, Google seems set on world domination.

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  • 3. At 12:44pm on 22 Apr 2010, ian hawkins wrote:

    If you use Mozilla's firefox to browse Facebook, just click the tools menu and select add-ons, then search for Adblock. It is a great addition to the browser and you need never be bothered by an ad on facebook or any other webpage again.
    I bet Mark Zuckerberg won't be bragging about too many [like] presses on that.

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  • 4. At 1:35pm on 22 Apr 2010, SheffTim wrote:

    This isn’t that big a step foreword. People already can and do embed web-pages, music and videos etc into their FB status line.

    The new ‘Like’ button might help simplify the process, but essentially is the same thing. I imagine YouTube will do very well from the ‘Like’ feature.

    But didn’t and Digg and other social aggregators come up with this idea many years ago? Hence the | Digg | Newsvine | NowPublic | Reddit buttons at the bottom of Maggie’s post and all other pages on this site.

    The more important aspect I think is that FB will be able to keep better track of its users ‘Likes’ in order to target advertising more effectively.

    I fail to see how this seriously threatens Google’s core search business. Particularly as FB is keen on its users opening up their security settings so that their status posts etc appear in search results.

    FB is also looking to integrate Microsoft’s online Office suite into FB so people can use FB as a work and collaboration tool too. That does challenge Google Docs to some extent (and ties people closer to FB if there is widespread uptake), but is also a case of offering something that was already available on the Web; not something 'new'.

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  • 5. At 2:26pm on 22 Apr 2010, Douglas Daniel wrote:

    When I press the "Like" button on someone's status, it's because they've said something silly like "urgh, I've got such a hangover today" or something pretty cool that's happened in their life. I never "like" their status updates with links in them, mainly because I'm not a complete loser. The vast majority of my facebook friends are the same, so unless you're searching for people that have had hangovers or have just passed exams, I don't quite see where the challenge to Google is.

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  • 6. At 2:31pm on 22 Apr 2010, Cameron wrote:

    Not too sure I'm buying that, Google is more broadly acceptable than Facebook, you are never going to try get work related information from Facebook.

    Having said that I think Facebook may finally be making steps to developing a profitable business model.

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  • 7. At 2:34pm on 22 Apr 2010, Miraglyth wrote:

    @ian hawkins:
    I am indeed an Adblock user, but websites are capable of knowing when users are blocking their adverts. To think the hypothetical Facebook Empire would allow advert blocking in any form would be naive.

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  • 8. At 2:45pm on 22 Apr 2010, Ludwigs Lughole wrote:

    I think Zuckerberg misses a point here. If I want to know what the general public (i.e. "friends") think about something I go to Wikipedia. If I want "facts" I use traditional means, i.e. primary and secondary research. This means trawling both online and offline media. It does not mean taking what Wiki says as gospel!!

    Thus if I only get wind of what my "friends" like, I am going to have a pretty limited life. I'm also going to ignore a whole lot of it as a precursor to being friends is not that we like the same thing.

    This will have limited impact on Google. I will not use Facebook to find real news articles about the things I am interested in.

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  • 9. At 4:00pm on 22 Apr 2010, this reality podcast wrote:

    Facebook's biggest flaw is that it is built on one of the worst UIs I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. It is unwieldy, it is not intuitive and the security model is inconsistent.

    Many of my professional colleagues feel, as I do, that Facebook is running out of steam. Why is Facebook casting around trying to steal functionality from established service providers, when Facebook has barely grasped existing technology - for instance, RSS feeds - and made it work for the Facebook user community?

    The whole thing product smells of a remarkable lack of imagination and absence of innovation.

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  • 10. At 4:07pm on 22 Apr 2010, EricH wrote:

    Facebook are trying to hype this idea. Sure there is some relevance and cross over in friends ideas but looking for an electrician, trying to investigate green energy sources, voting decisions you are not going to rely on the say so of your friends as your sole decision making factor. Google and/or Bing still provide the long tail of search.
    My view is use Facebook but don't let it rule you, and certainly don't let go of your privacy for others' gain.

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  • 11. At 5:38pm on 22 Apr 2010, matthew wrote:

    the main issue here is whether we WANT any one company to have "control of the web." In my oppinion it's a pipedream of these .com buisness men, anyway. I won't use facebook to browse the web because it's constantly deluging me with more and more stupid ads for affiliate marketers. Privacy is an illusion on the internet, but I prefer to keep that illusion anyway, and I certainly don't want to link everyone I know to everything I read or look at.

    Also, put on a suit, Zuckerburg, you look like a complete prat in your hoodie jumper in front of a press conference.

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  • 12. At 5:39pm on 22 Apr 2010, SheffTim wrote:

    I find the ‘Like’ option on status updates often works as a way of letting people know that you do log-in and scan the day’s posts, but without the greater time/effort composing a comment. An on-line equivalent of saying ‘Hi’ when you pass someone, but not stopping for a chat.

    If I do like links included in their update posts then I’ll go ahead and ‘Like’ them; unlike KingDouglas above I don’t think that makes me a ‘complete loser’.

    Sometimes the link can be something that reflects the personality of the Friend, sometimes Friends go to some trouble finding something they hope will amuse/entertain those that see their posts. (Of course my Friends list includes only the creme de la creme :-)) We also got to know each other first in the real world, which helps too.)

    Posts with lots of Likes can act as a form of recommendation, up to a point. How many people base their YouTube viewing entirely on Most Popular/Top Favourited etc?

    But the new(ish) ‘Like’ should be different. If it does turn out to be just a shinier version of the current one on status updates it’ll be a big disappointment.

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  • 13. At 10:34pm on 22 Apr 2010, Alex the Hat wrote:

    Being as I keep well away from FaceBook I view this development with some trepidation.In my view FB is for sad muppets who have totally lost,or never had,the social ability to actually get out of the house,away from their computers/mobiles,and actually meet REAL people.As Miraglyth pointed out(comment No.1),if you don't have 3000+ "e-friends"(of whom you maybe have really met 50)you are considered a pariah.If I want to contact my friends or relations I pick up my landline phone and have a damn good natter that will probably veer off topic and last for about 1/2 an hour or more.I might even(Heaven forfend) get a piece of paper and write a letter!
    The only use I can see for a FaceBook based search engine with all this "LIKE" button technology is if you want to buy the same clothes/music/hairdos/etc as your pseudofriends.(Clones-R-Us)
    If on the other hand you have an enquiring mind and need to find out who was Pharoah in 1250B.C.,which Element has the Atomic no.53,which book-sellers stock the Dr.Thorndyke Mysteries of R.Austin Freeman,how close the tide-line will be to your house if sea-levels rise by 20',then you need Google or some other fact based search engine.
    Hopefully both systems will learn to work independantly without striving for World Domination

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  • 14. At 1:05pm on 23 Apr 2010, Vincent wrote:

    Many websites already have a 'share' button with options for not just FaceBook but many others likes Twitter, LinkedIn etc...

    What FaceBook seem to suggest will only give you the option to share with only with FaceBook friends, and the implementation means even less privacy as you browse, FaceBook will know every website page you visit.

    What about information overload in your 'friend feed' - already a problem when you have too many friends. Could be improved if we could setup different categories of 'friends' and granular permissions control.

    The comment from Justin Smith, founder of also seems a little naive IMHO:
    "When someone "likes" your page, that is a valuable action because it means you will be able to publish updates directly to them in the future which could be used for a variety of purposes like promoting traffic to your website or advertising anything you want."

    ... really?! Anything they want? I don't think people would "like" that at all. In fact that would be the death of the whole principle.

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  • 15. At 09:56am on 24 Apr 2010, MacBookPro wrote:

    I don't want the entire internet telling me about my friends.

    In fact, I refuse to have a Facebook account at all. I don't get the obsession with it, the only thing I ever saw on it was stupid groups and trillions of photos of people at parties (why?). I removed my account very quickly after trying it and have no desire to join up again.

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  • 16. At 09:16am on 26 Apr 2010, froggeh wrote:

    I've been a facebook user for a few years now. I'm 40+ and I'm not a "loser", a "sad muppet" or any of the other unnecessarily abusive terms.
    I am also an expat. I find it extremely useful to keep in touch with friends back home, and also new friends I've met in language school. You don't have to buy in to all the junk...It's very simple to block daft applications and updates. The advertising is very non-intrusive to a point where I rarely notice it (The same can't be said for the TV, or even bluray and DVDs.
    Of course I have my friends that I meet day to day, but many people who I was friends with, who I would have otherwise simply lost touch with...from old jobs, from school etc, I can keep in touch with. Many of these people I'll never meet again, but we share interesting conversations, ideas, advice etc. This is the 21st century, Apps like facebook expand your social network into the technological age, not detract from your local human-social network.

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  • 17. At 3:45pm on 30 Apr 2010, Esilef Ovat wrote:

    Facebook is for people who prefer cheap talk that does not cost anything or may not mean anything.

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  • 18. At 09:50am on 02 May 2010, Paul wrote:

    Esilef Ovat wrote:
    Facebook is for people who prefer cheap talk that does not cost anything or may not mean anything.

    People like you really get on my nerves. Don't criticise other people who find a good use for this form of technology. It's choice, if you don't like it, stay away and don't abuse those that enjoy it.

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  • 19. At 1:39pm on 03 May 2010, Craig Smith wrote:

    Maggie, I don't think the goals of Facebook and Google are necessarily conflicting. In fact, I'm pretty sure the folks at Google do not think so. If they really saw Facebook as a threat surely they would penalise rather than encourage Facebook's rather spammy approach to gain top search result listings for most of their social networker's names.. if you're on Facebook then try googling your own name and surprise yourself!

    Google would certainly ban a 'regular' website for suddenly allowing literally hundreds of thousands of pages without any real links to those pages, to rank in search results. My guess is they would prefer to collaborate with Facebook rather than have them partner with Bing or the likes when they start introducing non-facebook search functionality in a bigger way. Facebook incidentally has already started doing this - if you search for a name or entity within facebook and it does not appear in their own results, they extract the top search results from the web (using google perhaps?).

    Craig (Technology blog)

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