Cage Match: Google vs. Facebook

octagon.jpgWhile Yahoo has spent time and energy over the past year and a half trying several times to talk Facebook into a merger, Google has been curiously silent.

Until, they recently snagged Brad Fitzpatrick from Six Apart. Fitzpatrick, known for founding LiveJournal and selling it to Six Apart, wasted no time laying down the gauntlet to all the social networks (i.e. Facebook). Aggregration is the future.

I blogged about Socialstream, the Google-sponsored social network that aims to aggregate data from outside networks, in July. Connecting the dots, it seems like Fitzgerald may be headed to that project to shepard it from research project to product. Google’s orkut has been a mixed bag, gaining footholds in Brazil and India, but I’m guessing Google wants more from the social networking pie than orkut can provide alone.

Enter Socialstream and aggregation. I’ve been part of a lively thread of email internally at Oracle recently on just this subject. With social networking rising in popularity in all demographics, it’s unreasonable for every Johnny-come-lately network to make me start all over with a new profile and new contacts. I won’t do it.

Fitzpatrick sums this up nicely in bold: “People are getting sick of registering and re-declaring their friends on every site.

Fitzpatrick says all the right things in his braindump (I wanted to call it a manifesto, but it just won’t fit).

“Facebook is an amazing platform and has some amazing technology.”

“I’m not saying anybody should ban Facebook, though! Far from it. It’s a great product, and I love it . . .”

“The goal is not to replace Facebook.”

Every compliment is followed by a “but” or some other negative. He also says that preliminary talks have begun with Facebook. This is weird to me. Let’s step back and review.

  • Fitzpatrick works for Google.
  • Google is popular and powerful enough to claim they invented the Interweb and have 80% of the public believe them.
  • Google has a social aggregation project underway. Whoops. I mean they are sponsoring a social aggregation network as a research project. My bad.
  • Google is not a major player in the latest Interweb trend.
  • Facebook’s enormously bloated self-valuation ($5 to 6 billion, huh?) is still half what Google reported its cash to be at the end of last quarter.

How is this not a passive-aggressive arm-twist? Subtext says, “Hey Facebook, we’re coming to take your lunch money.”

Meanwhile . . . 

In Zuckerland, Facebook has opened up its walls just a crack. The knock on Facebook almost from Day One is how closed they are to users and developers. Many developers have compared Facebook to Microsoft in its early days. Not a good thing for the image. Mark Zuckerberg has designs on making Facebook an interweb within the Interweb, which begins to explain the Roach Motel theory of data.

What’s weird is that at least two minor developments have come in the past week, partially opening up the platform.

  • As of last week, Facebook began syndicating Friends Status Updates and Friends Posted Items via RSS. I don’t find either that useful, but it’s a start. I’d really like the News Feed syndicated, but that would mean less time spent on the facebook.com domain. Sticky = good.
  • Today, as rumored, Facebook opened its messaging system to outside email addresses.

This isn’t an accident, and I’m guessing it’s not driven by Google or Fitzpatrick per se. I’m positive this was planned from the beginning, i.e. openness would have to happen at some point to keep the movement alive. After all, if Google opened a social network tomorrow, even without aggegration, how fast do you think they’d get to 30 million users?

My under/over is less a year, much shorter if they automatically converted every Google user account into a profile and auto-added all your contacts from GMail, Talk, Groups and all the other social properties. So, Facebook is opening slowly by necessity. They see the writing on the wall, literally (have you seen the graffiti wall in their office?).

Everyone’s a Winner

At the end of the day, aggregation is good for we the people. Allowing aggregationor better yet forcing by it competition, means we get promoted from users to people. People have friends and relationships in the real world. Users have social network profiles and denormalized networks of contacts. Because these are businesses, they are stingy with our stuff, i.e. they want to keep us bottled up in their network to view their ads.

Hey Google. Don’t be evil. Set us free.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

6 comments

  1. I think we are all anxious to see how this plays out. Clearly technology winners are not always about being the best, in tech it is often about who is the biggest.

    Both Google and Facebook have a lot to offer in that, as an individual, I get something from them. I agree the key concerns is
    1) how do you make it easy for me (don’t make me keep inviting people, don’t make me keep entering my bio, etc.)
    2) what do you give me for my effort? In FB I get the benefit of social interaction, in Google I get really useful tools.
    3) What’s the “time to value” or “return on investment” for my participation.

    Whatever happens with aggregation, I want to see it not just benefit the millions of “new” social networks that want to attempt their “me too” strategies but to also benefit the end user.

    As an end user I want control of my own information, I want to say where I send it and how much of my data moves to each new context. If aggregation does not give me that it will cause me to go to the least common denominator with my information and that will make each of the contexts less rich and rewarding.

  2. I think we are all anxious to see how this plays out. Clearly technology winners are not always about being the best, in tech it is often about who is the biggest.

    Both Google and Facebook have a lot to offer in that, as an individual, I get something from them. I agree the key concerns is
    1) how do you make it easy for me (don’t make me keep inviting people, don’t make me keep entering my bio, etc.)
    2) what do you give me for my effort? In FB I get the benefit of social interaction, in Google I get really useful tools.
    3) What’s the “time to value” or “return on investment” for my participation.

    Whatever happens with aggregation, I want to see it not just benefit the millions of “new” social networks that want to attempt their “me too” strategies but to also benefit the end user.

    As an end user I want control of my own information, I want to say where I send it and how much of my data moves to each new context. If aggregation does not give me that it will cause me to go to the least common denominator with my information and that will make each of the contexts less rich and rewarding.

  3. Meg, Google will be your best friend once it cracks the aggregation nut. Done right, Google’s tools will allow you to skip past your 3 concerns and provide you with an aggregator that looks like a social network (and is). No fuss, no mess. Google will become the data broker, just as they are with search, and everyone wanting to get in the social network game will come to them for access, just like search.
    Jake

  4. Meg, Google will be your best friend once it cracks the aggregation nut. Done right, Google’s tools will allow you to skip past your 3 concerns and provide you with an aggregator that looks like a social network (and is). No fuss, no mess. Google will become the data broker, just as they are with search, and everyone wanting to get in the social network game will come to them for access, just like search.
    Jake

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