6 minute read.

Why Facebook Won’t Put Google Out of Business

Paul Anthony / June 5, 2011

Posted in: Archive

I’m pretty many of you noticed the Techcrunch guest post last week, “Why Facebook will put Google out of Business” – pure trash talking linkbait, that appealed to the many masses of sheeple enamoured with Facebook, and ready to chase after Google with pitchforks.

In many ways I applaud Techcrunch’s editorial approach, they are fine manipulators of their audience; hell even Arrington himself has bragged of his ability to do so in the past with a flippancy and arrogance that only he could. To shamelessly paraphrase the aforementioned article; “You are all fucking stupid, and I’ve got you wrapped around my little finger”.

Yes. Indeed, and we drank this particular kool-aid dry.

Anyway, I digress. To the detriment of my own post, and before it comes across as Techcrunch flavoured sour grapes (which, of course it is).  I had to blog a response, and frankly, set the record straight.

Facebook and the threat of social won’t put Google out of business for a number of reasons:

It’s not about knowing what you like

I like alot of things. I like Radiohead. I like Aphex Twin. I like popcorn. I like tech, blogging. Lots of different shit, and Facebook knows about it all. I’ve probably “liked” over 3000 blog posts and shared them with others since I joined Facebook. What has the average user liked? Hard to say, but bottom line is, it doesn’t matter.

Will this matter when I’m searching for a recipe for pea green soup? Probably frickin’ not.

Facebook have yet to prove that they can index the web at the scale which Google have done. Storing the web isn’t a trivial task. It’s a technical nightmare that will eat Facebook’s soul.

To date, Facebook have one data center, and that’s just to cope with the existing membership and quantity of data that they are already storing inside their own closed system. Google have already scaled up massively beyond that.

Social is just one signal

There are alot of misconceptions about how Google’s algorithm works, but where their advantage lies, is that they haven’t focused solely on one area to determine where a result should appear in their results.

To use the analogy of an onion, Google’s algorithm is made up of carefully tested and deployed layers, of which social is just one layer.

The numbers which get spat out the other side determine ranking, and Facebook right now have only one piece of Google’s puzzle. Google also have years of historical logs of user search behaviour which have given them the technical edge when releasing and iterating the algorithm, which includes the numerous advances in machine learning and prediction that they have under their belt. What do Facebook have? Number of likes? Big deal. Social signals alone aren’t powerful enough to overthrow the Google algorithm, and frankly Facebook are years behind in not only the collation of that data, but the processing and understanding of it as well.

I want the needle. Not the haystack.

Social fails miserably at discovery. In fact, it just largely echo’s popularity which already exists on the web. If you haven’t already read it, go read filthy linking rich, which describes how the big get bigger, with larger brands receiving many more links as a result of their size.

Is that really what we want? A scenario where the big get bigger?

That’s exactly what social media is doing. It’s not however finding the little guy, or the deep web which Google are trying to index. I’m not interested in the fact that ten of my friends shared a piece content. In any case, the system falls down when you ask it more complicated queries. How does Google do in comparison? Pretty well all things considered. It’s also stupid to think that old content on the web isn’t useful, and from what I can see, a very small proportion of shared links on Facebook are old hat.  Just because content is fresh, doesn’t mean its relevant.

Google can use social in reverse

Google has the advantage of using social in reverse. Where they can augment an already great resultset using social as a factor, in say 10% of user queries when it is useful, Facebook have yet to prove that they can index the web, create a ranking factor that competes with Pagerank and augment those results with social. Google have the upper hand when it comes to the sources of data as well. They have Twitter, Linkedin, Quora, Foursquare all a part of the picture – and now +1 which is their own attempt. Late to the part maybe; lacking in social data? Not so much.

Yes. Schmidt may be kicking himself for not paying closer attention to the social web, but that doesn’t mean they are dead in the water.

99% of the time social is an awful match for a query

Just because my friends share something, doesn’t mean its a good fit for my query. On the contrary, it probably means that it is tabloid in nature, and relying on my friends taste and opinion won’t scale as I’ve already pointed out.  Facebook still have to prove that they can index the web. As well as that, if ten of my friends happen to post on Facebook that they are drinking green tea, when I search for tea with social at the heart of the ranking algorithm, this will be artificially inflated. I bloody hate green tea. Likewise, if they share an article about lolcats that went viral across Facebook – searching for ‘cats’ is going to result in unhappy users.

Facebook search..really?

It’s a fallacy to think that just because Facebook have reach and exposure, that the next technological move they are going to make is into the search field. Right now, they are doing just fine with the closed advertising platform that that needs you to be logged into Facebook to be exposed to it. IMO, the next significant move will be the content network. It will be quicker by far to implement than a viable search competitor.

The majority of Google revenue still comes directly from search, where CTR are higher, and the quality of adverts are better. As an Adwords customer myself, most of the time, the content network is a waste of time, doesn’t convert and swallows money as fast as you make it.

Google market share is still alive and well.

Google still command a significant lead in online ad spend share. According to eMarketer 43% this year from 38.9% in 2010. In comparison Facebook scraped 7.7% up 3% in the previous year, which shows Google revenue are still alive and well, and reflects advertising spend moving to online, rather than any kind of mouse catching cat.

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4 responses to “Why Facebook Won’t Put Google Out of Business

  1. Like you said, Techcrunch is just trying to gain attention… I really doubt Facebook will put an end to Google.

  2. The ONLY way for facebook to put google out of business is if facebook offers better pinpoint results and a broader range of websites. Even then it will take a while for that to even happen in the first place.

  3. Google will never die out. I have respect for what facebook has become, but there is no way they can ever match what Google has done. Facebook getting into the search area? Not going to happen. And you have Google+ which for me is better than facebook by a long shot.

  4. With the advent of Google+ it may well go the other way. I know as a Facebook user that people are becoming fed up with changes made to it. If G+ picks up then Facebook may well go the way of MySpace. I get a strong feeling that FB is past its peak and is subject to developments that do not have good usability backing them up, the changes to groups being a prime example.

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