Is Facebook More Important Than Google?

Yesterday Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO made a series of announcements about “Open Graph” which may result in a huge change in the way we experience the internet.  These changes put it directly in competition with Google.

Why Facebook Matters

The growth in the Facebook user base is staggering:

  • 400 million active users
  • More than 5 billion pieces of content shared each week
  • Over 60 million status updates posted each day
  • 100 million users of Facebook Connect (a way for external websites to integrate with Facebook, the precursor to Open Graph)

The scale and reach of Facebook is astonishing and their growth shows no signs of slowing.

What is Open Graph?

Today Facebook keeps track of connections between people.  The goal of Open Graph is to extend that to include connections between people and interests including music, food, brands, places and websites.  Facebook will now allow applications and websites to share this information.  The key to how this will work is the new “Like” button.  So let’s say you’re surfing on IMDB and you click the Like button to show that you liked a particular movie.  This information gets posted in your movies section of your profile along with specific information that IMDB passes to Facebook (the title of the movie, the director, etc.).  Inside Facebook, clicking on a movie that a friend has liked on IMDB will take the user directly back to the site.  Outside of Facebook, when users visit a website built with Open Graph, they will be able to see their friends’ activity directly on the site, without having to go back to Facebook.  For example, visitors to CNN can see what stories their friends have liked.

So What Does that Have to Do with Google?

Open Graph makes it very easy for me to discover things (websites, products, brands, restaurants, movies, music) by watching what my friends are doing.  Much in the same way that Twitter has become a news feed for many of us, Facebook can become a sort of interest feed that reaches out and exists across the entire internet. If I’m looking for a movie to watch or new music to listen to or a contractor to fix my roof, a Google search can only take me so far.  The actions and interests of my friends is much more trusted, relevant and helpful to me.  This method of discovering things is a replacement for search as surely as my Twitter feed has become a replacement for my RSS reader.  Not only does Open Graph make it easier for people to discover things on the web, it also provides a huge amount of information about people to web sites which can then deliver highly targeted advertising.  So Facebook becomes a platform for search and advertising – sound like anyone we know?

“The open graph puts people at the center of the web.” Zuckerberg stated in his talk.  And where there are people, there’s Facebook.

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39 thoughts on “Is Facebook More Important Than Google?”

  1. For the time being, the pair of Google and Facebook work very well together with these new features. When you need to perform a specific time-oriented action, Google is very important, but Facebook increases that experience on arrival at your destination. Apps and partners will emerge that fill in the search gaps at Facebook but it will take a while.

    What will be interesting is how Google will use the openly accessible and standardized Open Graph information being embedded in sites. They are in a great position to do something with all this new data.

    Facebook is moving strategically, they helped a lot more people than just themselves yesterday.

    1. Hi Kurt,
      I agree that for many searches, Facebook’s Open Graph will simply make the experience better once you get there but for Facebook users who spend a lot of time in the Facebook environment, I think that Google should be worried. I think the process of how we discover information is changing. The old paradigm of typing keywords and searching is being replaced by an almost passive form of discovery where people find what happens to cross their path. As a serious Twitter users I see that happen to me every day. I could be wrong of course but I don’t think anything Google is doing today brings it close to being able to do more “social search”. Facebook on the other hand is making some serious moves.
      You make an interesting point about Google using the openly accessible data – I hadn’t thought of that. It will be interesting to see how that works out in the end…
      April

      1. Thanks for the reply April. I agree the potential is there for Facebook to really be an amazing discovery tool with these new features. In reality, it will take a while to get there in a majority of product/service categories. Google lost music, movie and book discovery long ago in my opinion. Google stopped being about random discovery for me many years ago, but my usage continues to increase, usually with very specific objectives.

        You are correct that Google isn’t doing a lot on social search and what they have is weak. I was just saying Facebook’s http://opengraphprotocol.org/ is likely to be used by them to increase structured relevance (you search an Actor’s name, it now knows the difference between an article about them and a biography of them).

        In the long run Google should definitely be worried, however they don’t tend to sit idle. I for one just thinks the pie got bigger.

        Kurt

  2. Call me a cynic but I think these are the first baby steps towards a Facebook controlled internet. The great thing about the internet at the moment is the fact that someone like you or me can upload our own independent content and others can read it. I worry that if too much is integrated into one website and users observe content through it (i.e. Facebook) we lose control of the contributory content aspect of the internet.

    Hope this makes any kind of sense, wonder whether you agree…

    1. Hi Arek,
      Oh I agree with you and I fully expect to see some serious backlash today from folks that have privacy concerns and are also concerned about Facebook being the point of control in all this. They made it a point to say that people would still be able to control their privacy settings so they don’t have to give up information if they don’t want to. Your point about Open Graph adding restrictions on how things might get shared is an interesting one. I wonder how all of that will play out. At any rate, I think the announcements yesterday were big – it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.
      Thanks for the comment!
      April

      1. Hi April

        That’s Ok re the comment, it was a tres interesting article 🙂

        Privacy wise – I’m over it. I’m not on Facebook any more.

        What worries me is that I suspect the internet is going to be more financially orientated in the future – money will buy you your voice and the magnitude of your voice. If you don’t have the money it will become increasingly difficult to have your voice heard. Somehow.

        As you say we will see, but message me in 3-5 years when it all changes for good!

        Arek

  3. Hi April,

    Great Post as usual. As someone with an ethnography background, Open Graph got me salivating! In the past, I’ve taken the principles of ethnography to the digital world and have used facebook to understand culture, but this just opens up a whole new world.

    From a strategic perspective, I think agencies now will have the ability to really go out and understand their clients consumer before developing a digital strategy. This is such a great boon to the digital marketing community.
    Just my .02 🙂

    Twitter: @interpretivist

    1. Thanks for the comment!
      It certainly looks like a marketing goldmine, doesn’t it? I’m a big fan of anything that can help make marketing/advertising more relevant to users.
      April

  4. Great post and follow-on comments. I would like to have clicked on a “Like” button, but couldn’t find one. 😎

    Will “liking” something turn out to be more powerful than search for intention-based advertising? Facebook thinks so…

    1. Hi Roy,
      Thanks for the comment! I haven’t figured out how to put a “Like” button on my posts yet but I’m sure I’ll have one soon enough 🙂
      I do think that having your friends like something is a pretty powerful thing and the nature of search is changing. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
      April

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  6. The subtext here is that neither Google nor Facebook (like the now-irrelevant Microsoft in past) are very good at sharing their toys. Google wants it all. So does Facebook.

    Google fires a marshmallow at Facebook with Buzz, Facebook fires armor-piercing shells broadside at Google with Open Graph. Let the battle begin! This will be fun to watch.

  7. interesting

    this all makes sense for my personal life. but my clients are execs (business, IT, healthcare, etc). Largely, LinkedIn is the venue in which i find and interact with them.

    how is facebook an equal (or preferred) venue?

    1. Thanks for the comment Barry.
      It’s hard to compare Facebook and LinkedIn and certain for your use (lead generation), LinkedIn is a much more appropriate tool.
      What Facebook is doing is more about how people discover content and products through looking at what their friends like which is really a different use case from what you’re talking about.
      April

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