I remember this past Christmas I mentioned to some relatives that Google sees services like Facebook and Twitter as competitors. The response was a universal “huh?”. I told them that you’re getting information from them both, and that makes them competitors. Their blank stares indicated that this really didn’t make any sense to them, but I reckon after Facebook’s announcements at F8 it might.
Facebook has basically said they want to make the web more friend-ly (pun intended). You can now take your friends wherever you go. Yelp and Pandora are great examples of this. Sure there are privacy concerns, but the web just got a whole lot more interesting for those who can stomach the changes.
Meanwhile, Google’s problem is that it has always been about indexing new information. That’s why they hire all those engineers. In their mind, there’s nothing that they can’t solve with more information. Gmail, Google Apps, Google Reader… All their products are free (or super cheap) because they want access to information.
Facebook realized that in reality, there’s now too much information. No amount of Google searches will tell you what your friends are up to or what they find interesting. They’ve decided that what people need and want is access to more relevant information. Who has information that you’re more interested in? Your friends, family, coworkers and people in your social network. The Google algorithm will never find that information.
Not that Google hasn’t tried. They saw the writing on the wall with social networks and pushed out Buzz to the masses. Although arguably they just wanted a way to index information faster, the product was a resounding bust. Instead of seeing what people were talking about or how they interact with information, they’re seeing the breadcrumbs of people who forgot to turn buzz off.
In the past, Search Engine Optimization has been a big part of every good website design. I think in the near future, Social Interaction Optimization might eclipse it though. With your facebook friends able to see you on every site, it’s more important to have things worth sharing as opposed to having a site that Google can crawl more efficiently. I’ll be interested to see what sort of best practices evolve to make people more likely to interact with your site.
So now the race is on. Facebook has decided to something really gutsy in order to become more relevant than Google. We’ll have to watch and see how it turns out.