The Epic War Between Google and Facebook: Who’s Winning?

This is a guest post by David Murton.

Picture a cage. An octagon. It stands in the center of a large arena where a boisterous crowd sways to rock music and eyes the two men, the combatants, who stand inside. Each man is pasty from not enough sunlight and decidedly dumpy from way too many donuts. Yet each one possesses the hypertrophied hands of an expert computer nerd, of men whose fingers can fly atop a keyboard or wireless device, leaving in their wake contrails of code to change the world.

In furious anger, the duo of dueling digerati stare at each other, unblinking. Emblazoned on each man’s rear end is the corporate logo of why he fights, or types as the case may be. One man’s shorts read Google; the other, Facebook.

“Are you ready?!” the referee yells over the din of the crowd. Google nods. Facebook nods. “Let’s get it on!” The two men don’t need to be told twice. Like cats – slow, pudgy cats – they waddle to the middle of the ring where they sit down to computers and open bags of nacho chips. Their fingertips quickly rendered bright orange (allowing them greater traction across the keys), the dueling digerati begin typing and, as their code fills the screen, the frenzied crowd, lost in its own delirious roar, cannot hear itself scream.

The long-awaited fight has finally come. The big one. The issue hanging in the balance is nothing short of who shall emerge the king of social media and the champion of the online world. But suppose a person who doesn’t know what social media is wanders into the event: say a small child, or someone’s grandmother who doesn’t know how to log into her own e-mail account. Perplexed, this person turns to you for help. “Why are they fighting?” she asks. Tearing your eyes from the action in the cage, you do your best to explain. It goes something like this.

A User’s First Resource

The fight is a struggle over who will serve as the Internet’s gateway, the first place one visits in order to find anything or to go anywhere on the web. As of the beginning of 2011, Google and Facebook account for an astounding percentage of daily web traffic worldwide, nearly ninety percent. While the huge numbers alone are impressive, the true power comes from gaining as much personal data as possible about each and every user. The reason? This data is then used by the purveyors of goods and services to target advertisements to people’s known interests through the vector of the very social media that these people have made such an indispensible part of their lives.

The result is the marketing equivalent of a military surgical strike, engaging only the target while keeping the collateral costs to an absolute minimum. Therefore, the corporation that provides the most compelling social media experience, the one that captures the masses’ hearts and minds, would literally be in position to serve as the global toll booth to the advertisers of anything in the world. Ka-ching doesn’t come close to covering the consequences of success. Try Ka-ching to the power of near infinity, wherever that is.

Google Buzz and Open Graph

The Facebook vs. Google faceoff truly began with Google’s February, 2011 launch of Buzz, a social networking and messaging tool designed to integrate with Google’s web-based email program, Gmail. Google hopes the system will share links and photos, videos and messages so seamlessly, so compellingly, that the hordes will adopt it as their social media standard. So far, however, not all the buzz about Buzz is good.

Opposing Google’s Buzz is Facebook’s Open Graph. Beginning in April of 2010, Open Graph has allowed users to turn their own Websites into Facebook-like extensions, providing the user with a slew of plug-ins to insert into his or her own domain: Activity Feed, Recommendations, Like Buttons, Comments, Live Stream, etc. The result is a blur between what Facebook is and what one’s own blog is, a blur that is spreading. In only one week, the new Open Graph plug-ins were found on 50,000 websites – a number, no doubt, that will appear quaintly small in the very near future.

User Privacy and Control

As if turning a large swath of the web into an extension of Facebook weren’t enough, Facebook has come up with Facebook Places, an application that allows users the option of checking in via their iPhones to let the world to know where they are. Apart from the obvious privacy concerns, an issue that Google Buzz in particular has had trouble with, launching a product that automatically identifies a personal email address when activated through Google’s Gmail – there is also the basic issue of data portability, the ability for people to both use, (and control), their personal data across a range of applications. Not surprisingly, data portability represents yet another front in the Google vs. Facebook social media smack-down.

Future Battles

So where is all this going? Google is a formidable challenger, but Facebook may prove an even more formidable champ. From its humble beginnings in a Harvard dorm room just seven years ago, Facebook has grown into a 500 million plus world-changing cultural juggernaut. However, the question here is not merely which corporation offers the most seamless and effective tools for social media, but which one is most positively perceived by the public.

Remember MySpace? Public perception is critical and here Google may have a slight edge, but only very slight. In fact, as of this writing, Facebook is making something of a comeback in the public perception front. If present trends continue, then expect to see even more revolutionary social media possibilities that change our lives. And expect those changes that you’ll be seeing online almost everywhere to have a little, light blue button with an è©®’ in it.