As Google and Facebook vie for position, a third upstart enters. (A guest post by Julie Aterspack)
Arguably the biggest names in Internet tech, Google and Facebook, are known for particular services – Google, for the wrangling, indexing, management and organization of information that enables users to find what they need quickly – and Facebook, for facilitating the communication inside and between social networks. Both companies have achieved astronomical success by enabling users to cut through the immensity of the social web, find product information, search for schools and programs, reconnect with friends, and so on. Both utilize their user base as incentive to advertisers and by selling ads. This one-stop-shop marketing solution has proven very successful if not monopolistic for the masters of online search and social networking.
But neither seems to be satisfied with their very large lot in the global marketplace, and each attempts to cross over into the other’s domain.
Google has taken a number of unsuccessful stabs at the online social scene. Orkut was rarely used in America outside of Google headquarters; Buzz found some footing but was ultimately unsuccessful; Wave represented an innovative and exciting new direction for social networks that did not take hold; Google+ is the latest effort to reign in a share a piece of the social pie, and as one ex-Googler who now works for Microsoft explains, the company is willing to risk everything to accomplish the mission.
This dual-citizenship in search and social isn’t just a whim; it’s a battle to the death. Google and Facebook recognize the hourly advertising value of the nearly countless eyes that glance across their pages every day, and they know that capturing the imagination behind those eyes is the key to cyberspatial supremacy. But can it be done? Can a leopard change its spots?
Facebook might hope to change public perception of its brand as well, with a recent pre-IPO photo of the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, launching a wave of speculation that the social network–over 900 million users strong at the time of this writing–is inching closer to implementation of a new search feature. And why not? Facebook already has the userbase, and the chief challenge of giant social networks like Twitter thus far has not been adoption, but monetization. Search is one of the best ways to convert casual users into peons.
Enter Microsoft, which was successful in raising a challenge to Google with Bing, thanks in large part to the company’s OS (and browser) presence in offices around the globe. And now, MS is hoping to strengthen the less-that-three-years-old search brand with the addition of user comments, ratings and other social features in direct competition with Google+. Hard core tech junkies, who use Chrome or Firefox rather than IE, might not take notice, but the billions of others who use Microsoft products exclusively each day will.
In the end it’s all about users. Facebook, Microsoft and Google each have their own pools to draw on. Exploring new methods of leveraging that access is what today’s economy is all about. The battle for dominance in search and social is just heating up, and who knows, in five years, we might be Facebooking a map to grandma’s house and Binging our best friends on the way.