On the heels of my post about Google and Facebook locked in a user engagement death match (or more appropriately, Google chasing Facebook here), John Battelle sallied forth with the prediction that Facebook would launch a third-party ad platform.
As in, the one Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, his lieutenant COO Sheryl Sandberg, and numerous others have denied planning for the last few years.
That would be what Battelle calls "FaceSense," Facebook's version of Google's AdSense.
Why not? Facebook is farther along than where Google was when it launched AdSense 10 years ago. I'll summarize Battelle's reasons:
- Facebook will need to keep demonstrating new lines of revenue and growth.
- Facebook already has its hooks into millions of Websites with Open Graph plug-ins: the Like, Recommend, Share, Connect, and Facebook Comment plugins. Battelle's point is these buttons drive so much data it would be a waste for Facebook not to leverage them.
- The plug-ins give Facebook an easy on-ramp for publishers.
- Sandberg, David Fischer, and Gokul Rajaram helped AdSense bloom while at Google.
The first point is the one I'm most interested in. Here's why. Facebook already whips Google on user engagement -- 7 hours per person, per month versus less than two hours per month on Google.
But where Facebook isn't yet competitive is in ad dollars spent. Thanks to AdWords, AdSense and to a lesser extent, DoubleClick, YouTube and AdMob, Google is on track to make $40 billion in 2011, versus $4 billion for Facebook.
As Battelle notes, "there's a lot more attention out there on the Independent Web, and the default ad service for that other 6/7ths is Google's AdSense."
To that end, I just don't see how Facebook can ever truly threaten Google without wielding an ad platform that addresses the Web outside the walled garden of the world's largest social network.
That ad platform, FaceSense, should arrive this year, according to Battelle. If that happens the social ad sparks between Facebook and Google will fly high.
It will also surely heighten concerns in Washington, D.C. and among the EPIC and the EFF and other privacy advocates all over the country who are already concerned that Facebook too often takes liberties with user privacy.