In the spirit of such wonderfully polarizing opposites as "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," a social software programmer has come up with a cute analogy of the different users Google and Facebook (or other social Websites such as Twitter) appeal to.
Adam Rifkin, co-founder of social app site Renkoo, said Google, with its search and other task specific, goal-oriented applications, fosters grazing of information. Rifkin wrote:
"The kind of application that Google knows how to make well are the kind that embody a panda's "eats, shoots and leaves" model of Internet behavior. Pandas spend every waking hour foraging -- aka searching -- and consuming. The most successful Google applications serve such a utilitarian mandate, too: they encourage users to search for something, consume and move onto the next thing. Get in, do your business, get out. Do a Google search, slurp down information, move on. Pull up Google maps or Gmail or Google news, do something, leave. Where Google does not excel is in making applications that are by their nature for lingering and luxuriating -- the so-called social applications."
Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and Quora are the lobster traps that catch millions of consumers and make them stay.
"Facebook is a lobster trap and your friends are the bait. On social networks we are all lobsters, and lobsters just wanna have fun. Every time a friend shares a status, a link, a like, a comment, or a photo, Facebook has more bait to lure me back. Facebook is literally filled with master baiters: Whenever I return to Facebook I am barraged with information about many friends, to encourage me to stick around and click around. Every time I react with a like or comment, or put a piece of content in, I'm serving as Facebook bait myself. Facebook keeps our friends as hostages, so although we can check out of Hotel Facebook any time we like, we can never leave. So we linger. And we lurk. And we luxuriate. The illogical extreme of content-as-bait are the Facebook games where the content is virtual bullshit. Social apps are lobster traps; Google apps do not bait users with their friends."
Of course, Google users still use Facebook and Facebook users still use Google. But at the end of the day, they provide two different, but overlapping toolsets.
Google serves search with a side of social; Facebook serves social with helpings of search.
If you buy that argument, move on to the next logic point: can we make Google a lobster trap? Can we make Facebook a place for searching pandas?
To the question of Google, I'm not sure. All plans for Google Me and creating a new social network model aside, I'm not sure that Google can become the lobster trap to catch users and keep them coming back for social.
Orkut bombed everywhere but India and Brazil and Buzz is a hobby, so we have no evidence Google can capture the social zeitgeist Facebook fashioned.
Rifkin put it like this: "Social apps are whimsical and fun; Google apps are whittled and functional."
I agree even though I don't need to because the proof is in the pudding that former Googlers founded Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.
Rifkin succinctly said: "Googlers who wanted to develop great social applications had to leave Google to do so."
So, it's not just a technological challenge Google faces, but a philosophical one. Social is not in Google's DNA, chromosomes, physiological makeup.
To the question of whether Facebook can succeed in search, I'd argue absolutely, yes. I and 500 million others already use Facebook for people search. Facebook's monthly search queries are approaching 1 billion.
Who is to say Facebook won't add Big Data and turn into a Super Search Social platform?
Again, it would require a lot of architectural work, but I wouldn't count Facebook out here.
If the company succeeded, it could be game over for Google. People wouldn't need to Google anymore.
Facebook would have the eyeballs and the ads to put in front of them.