Once again, a brave soul has suggested that Facebook could kill Google thanks to its vast treasure trove of user data and its increasing ability to help users find a lot of information they would normally find on Google. Or at least ensure the info finds them.
The latest in this parade of provocateur is Ben Elowitz, who founded Blue Nile and then then white label publishing platform Wetpaint. Elowitz, who I know to be a sharp guy from chatting with him about social media, argued on TechCrunch that Facebook could put Google out of business because Google's datasets largely consist of antiquated, static info from across the Web.
Facebook offers fresh personalized data, both within the walled garden context and extending out to the rest of the Web for those who would incorporate its Like button and other social plugins. Elowitz wrote:
"Facebook's data allows it to do more than just guess what its customers might be interested in; the company's data can help it know with greater certainty what its customers are really interested in. And this key difference could potentially give Facebook a tremendous advantage in search when it eventually decides to move in that direction... And, even more powerfully, Facebook knows each of our individual and collective behavior patterns well enough to predict what we'll like even without us expressing our intent."
That sounds great, and a lot of people will welcome this, but it's not going to put Google out of business. Silicon Alley Insider's Matt Rosoff nicely covers many of the practical bases of why this wouldn't happen. It's expensive, Rosoff argues. I'd add that Facebook doesn't need to; it already integrates Bing.
Here's my take. Facebook's data stores on people will enable it to target users for the type of contextual discovery that Google is working on with Google Offers and Google Wallet.
In this model of proactive, social recommendations, users' existing searches are leveraged as signals to target people with prompts, such as local deals and other suggestions. It remains to be seen how Google's +1 button will contribute to this effort.
Facebook has the social graph, and has a deals offering to captitalize on this trend, but it certainly hasn't cornered the market here. If anyone has moved the needle in contextual discovery, it's Groupon, which spent a lot of money to get people discounts.
Here's my feeling on why it Facebook won't conquer all based on my own Web use. Despite what social media gurus everywhere tell you -- Elowitz is drunk on the same Silicon Valley-centric social media Kool-Aid -- Facebook is not the be all, end all of Web interaction.
There are plenty of us who use Facebook, not because they like it, but because they have to for work or simply keeping up with the Joneses.
I'm not a super social creature. Okay, that's the kind, ham-handed way for describing myself as antisocial, as my wife is wont to do. I don't like broadcasting myself.
I use Facebook ostensibly to store photos of my family. Facebook photos is superior to Picasa, in my opinion. I just love that app, the way it arranges and renders photos.
If people I know see my pics great. If they don't, that's fine, too. I don't need to read 10 comments on how my infant soon looks in his bathing suit. There are plenty of people like me out there who love that we can go to Google and not "be social" in any way.
We can search, use Gmail, surf Google News without the feeling that anyone but Google and its advertisers are hovering. On Facebook, almost anything I do is susceptible to the eyes and comments of people I know. Who the hell wants that all of the time?
The more I use Facebook, the more info it seems it wants of me. Yesterday, for example, I move to upload a photo from my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to Facebook for the first time on that specific device and it asked me for my phone number. WTF?
I don't get that with Google. I don't want to "friend" people I don't already know. It's not my style. And that is why Google, aside from its billions of desktop search ad dollars and expansion into YouTube displays ads and mobile search, will continue to thrive.
This is no zero sum game at the top despite what Elowitz and others tell you. Gene Wilder summed it up nicely here: