Google, Facebook Death Match Over User Engagement

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2012-01-03

Facebook is killing Google, enjoying more than 800 million users, half of whom log on to connect with family, friends and colleagues daily.

This is the meme that's been boiling over from the tech press in the wake of Nielsen's latest top Web brands list.

Certainly, when it comes to user engagement, or time spent online, Facebook wins in a walk, where users spend four times as much time as they do on Google:

Google-FB Engagement.png

But this has been the case the last couple years, which is why Google is trying to match Facebook with Google+, the social network that reportedly has more than 62 million users and could have half as many as Facebook by the end of this brand-spanking-new year. I'll believe that when I see it.

Henry Blodget mounted a spirited defense of Google, arguing that Facebook can't yet compete with Google in the obvious: the money trail. Blodget wrote:

To get a quick reality check on whether Facebook is killing Google, all you need to do is glance at these two numbers:

$40 Billion

$4 Billion

What are those two numbers? Those are the approximate revenue numbers for 2011 for Google and Facebook respectively. Google's 2011 revenue will be about $40 billion, and Facebook's will be about $4 billion. Google, in other words, is 10 times Facebook's size.

The Facebook sycophants, sympathizers and friends disregard this with a shoulder shrug, believing that the top social network will ultimately slingshot past Google in social advertising.

Their logic follows that people will continue to spend less time on Google and more on Facebook, which is where the ads will be.

Blodget calls B.S. on this, arguing that Facebook will not catch or leapfrog Google "unless it figures out a way to insert itself between consumers who want to buy specific products and companies that make and sell those specific products, the way Google has."

Blodget's summary sort of makes Google Offers, Google Wallet and Google's local commerce and search endeavors all the more poignant, no? It also suggests Facebook needs to make a commerce engine of sorts to rout Google.

Then there are people like me who believe people who overshare are silly and that people overstate the value of the network. Facebook is merely the medium, the platform. I get no more joy out of it than I do my hammer, lawn mower or leaf blower.

Okay, maybe that's not true. A recovering misanthrope, I sometimes enjoy my power tools more than I do sharing on Facebook. This Timeline thing?

It's a prettier way for Facebook to package themselves as brands that can be targeted and retargeted for advertising. It's just a play to help businesses and people sell you more crap.

Google, for me, is the more complete tool set. Search, documents, email, all compartmentalized, but if I want them integrated, I can create and share on Google+, the bid to get some of the mojo it lost back from Facebook.

Ironically, Google is leveraging traditional TV advertising to put an emotional, human face on its social network and other products to compete with Facebook. This is a serious effort to cement its relevancy.

I'd be shocked if Google became irrelevant or uncool, but it could happen. I'm just not sure Facebook is the Google slayer.

I strongly believe that despite all the integration of applications, games, mobile and communications that people don't want to just be in the Facebook silo. Just as not all of us want to live in the Google silo.

Yeah, it's comfortable for now, but there's going to be something better that comes along in 10 or 20 years, making both Google and Facebook seem antiquated. But I think the Web is moving and evolving too fast, even for Facebook to rout Google.

If there is a "winner" of the race, it's not these two companies. We haven't yet seen the new participants, even if the media like to paint the two as locked in a death-match power struggle.

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