Why Facebook is NOT a Social Network of the Past and Why Google Should be on the Lookout

The original interview of Bradley Horowitz can be found here: http://www.businessinsider.com/bradley-horowitz-on-facebook-ads-2012-11.

After having written 9 different blog posts for this class, some of them analysis and many of them just rants, I decided to do something a little different this week. Recently, Google VP of Google+, Bradley Horowitz, gave an interview on Business Insider, and during the interview, he showed why Facebook is “a social network of the past” and why Google’s strategy is better. I am going to play devil’s advocate to his arguments. By the end of this article, I will have debunked all of his reasonings, and I will show why Google is the one who should be hiding if and when Facebook reaches its full potential.

Horowitz’s arguments against Facebook can be grouped into three main categories. (1) Facebook is fundamentally different from how people really are in the world. When people communicate with each other, they want to really limit their conversation to just that group of people. That is why Google+ is designed from the group up around the ideas of circles of friends and video hangouts. (2) Facebook’s method of implementing mobile ads jam irrelevant information into the users’ news feeds. The users, feeling annoyed, would then just skip the information entirely. “Jamming ads and agendas into user streams is pissing off users and frustrating brands, too.” Google, on the other hand, does not bother users with ads in Google+. Instead, these ads more logically appear in Google Search, where users are actually looking for information. (3) Google’s wide array of services, when brought together with Google+ being at the center of it all, provide a new and unique experience unlike what others (Facebook) can offer. For example, with data from Google+, Google can deliver search results while incorporating recommendations, say for a restaurant, from friends.

I will now rebut Horowitz’s points, one by one. First off, it is true that Facebook does not allow an easy and convenient way for users to limit their conversations. Google+’s solution in circles look indeed to be very promising. However, one oversight makes this argument practically invalid: the online world and the offline world are still two discreet, intermittently overlapping realities. People do not always want the same thing online as they do in their lives. For instance, when people get on Facebook, they actually want to discover things about their friends that they can’t in the real world. Imagine if Facebook suddenly turned all of the wall posts private; would you still use it? At the heart of Facebook is this belief that people want to share and discover things with each other. When they do want to make things private, though, Facebook users have the option of doing so in Facebook groups and messaging. Google+’s implementation of circles is clearly superior to Facebook’s friends lists, but it is like trying to apply medication when there is no actual injury.

Horowitz was not wrong to point out that Facebook, unlike Google, has been struggling with how to monetize its mobile users. Facebook’s solution, according to him, is to “make payroll by jamming users with ads.” However, I do not see how users would be bothered by this. Again, Google fails to understand that people do not behave online in the same way as they do on the web. If there is a flyer thrown into my face every corner I turn, I would certainly be annoyed. However, when I go on Facebook, I want to discover things. Sometimes, those things can be ads. In fact, Facebook’s implementation of mobile ads actually preserve/enhance the user experience more than Google’s implementation (in search). When people check their Facebook news feeds, they want to discover new things. When a certain thing does not interest them, regardless of whether it is an ad or a friend’s post, they simply scroll past it. In Google search, on the other hand, people want relevant information, not promoted data. Facebook at least provide a clear distinction of what is an ad and what is not. I find it harder and harder to trust that the link I am clicking on Google is actually there because it is relevant, not because someone paid for it to be there. (While we are on this topic, google “best smartphone” and see what comes up.)

I wonder if the Search team has an issue against the Android team.

It is actually quite ironic that a Google VP would accuse anyone of having intrusive ads while one of Google’s top products, YouTube, has one of the most disruptive ads on the planet. Browse on YouTube long enough, and an ad is shoved on your screen. Who is compromising the user experience now?

Before moving on to Horowitz’s last argument, I have to applaud Google’s recent efforts to unify its products. Doing so really add value to the Google ecosystem. That said, Google has put itself into an awkward position here. Because Google has so many products, it ends up competing with everyone. For instance, Google would love to have Google+ integrated into all smartphones, namely the iPhone. However, because Google is also the maker of Android, there is no way that Apple (or any other smartphone developers) would implement Google+ into its products. In fact, Apple recently kicked YouTube and Google Maps out of iOS. This is not an isolated case. Google is fighting a multiple-fronts war here, and if history is any indication, it cannot win this kind of wars. For instance, Apple came really close to replacing Google Search as the default search engine on Safari with Microsoft’s Bing. (When you see Apple and Microsoft collaborating, something is up.) As this and many other cases showed, Google is struggling to be everywhere while at the same time doing everything. Facebook knows this, which is why it is not making a phone. Unlike Google, Facebook is built into iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Unlike Google, Facebook is integrated into multiple app stores, including Apple’s and its own app catalog. Unlike Google, Facebook has no trouble making partnerships while focusing on what it does best: social networking.

So far, though, I have only shown why Facebook should not be concerned with Google’s efforts. What about the other way around? This is where it gets interesting. People’s relationship with Facebook’s flagship product, its social network, is much more deep and personal than their relationship with Google’s flagship product, Search. Even if Google gets all the recipe right and make a perfect social network, it still lags the tremendous amount of users that Facebook has. True, Google has a lot of users for its other services, but those services, unlike social networks, are not social. A user will have not nearly as much trouble abandoning Google Search than he would have abandoning Facebook, simply because his friends are all on Facebook. On the other hand, if Facebook comes up with a perfect search engine and integrates it right into their social network site, many users will flock right over, especially if Apple and Microsoft help by making “Facebook Search” the default search engine on their products. In short, Facebook’s hold on its users is much stronger than Google’s could ever hope to be.

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