Me, Myself and My Google
I remember the first time I was plugged to internet back in 1997. I created my email id. It was on rediff.com. Then I surfed some porn sites. Then I saw yahoo.com. Almost everyone I knew was on rediff. Very soon, almost everyone was on Yahoo. And the most exciting thing to do was to do private and public chats on Yahoo Messenger. Then came the days when Yahoo chatrooms started to flood with nonsense messages, porn websites became popup machines and soon the internet became a wide wide shit. Those were the days when suddenly everything (I used) across the internet became too obstructive, complex and confusing.
In the midst of all those came google.com. A neat and clean interface for searching the web, which was perhaps the biggest problem at that time. Google took the challenge to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. And they did a great job with their search engine. People started liking google and used Yahoo, Rediff and MSN for their emails. Then came gmail.com and suddenly out of nowhere everyone had a gmail.com account. It was again neat and clean. And then again, all of a sudden, the voice chats, buzzes, beautiful big smileys, public chatrooms, multiple screen names, erotic talks on Yahoo chat came to and end simple non rich text formatted, non fancy UIed chat windows. Somehow people liked it. Probably they were bored of all the glittering stuff, or maybe some principle of UX design came into play. Ever since, Google became a part of everyone's life with products like Docs, PicasaWeb, Blogger, News, Scholar, Books, Knol and many more. People had faith in Google, their ideas and their values. Off lately there are various slanders on Google about the way they use data to create relevant text ads, but despite all these, a vast majority of people still love Google.
What The Facebook?
Social Networking was something that was not so popular in India. Not in 2004, the year I went for my Bachelors in Engineering, the year Facebook was founded and the year Orkut was founded. Sooner, everyone I knew was on Orkut and it was kinda fun. We used to meet up, post scraps to each others, and had communities where we discussed the C++ puzzles. Life was easy and fun. This probably continued till early 2008s (in India) when people were not accepting facebook because they found it too complex to use. Probably people just could not visualize what is "writing on wall". And then facebook kept evolving, changing its UX to make it more resemble the real world interactions. That is where Orkut was left behind. Orkut was good for novice users who expected barely scraps and messages and communities for interactions. But as it goes in the real world, you appreciate, like, comment on your friends' activities. All of a sudden, all this was possible on Facebook. One other problem with Orkut was of privacy. I remember there were communities where pictures of real girls from their profile was hotlinked and posted. This obviously irritated a lot of people and they started to remove their content from Orkut. Almost at the same time, as I precisely remember, the Indian community was starting to look towards facebook because it was social, it was fun and it was secure. Orkut was still being used by those who were new to social networking and then they gradually graduated to use facebook.
Soon, everyone I knew was on facebook, even my mom, my dad and my 8 year old cousin. Life became easy. Google released OpenSocial in late 2007 and people started to develop games and apps for Orkut. It could have been a big hit if people had been using Orkut or they had interest. Orkut failed to attract new users and even continue old users. Orkut started to die, and pictures of Orkut - R.I.P became popular on the internet.
You like it
Sure you will ask me, what's the big deal with that. Google is in search and ads, and facebook is in social networking. Facebook already beat Google's Orkut, so do they still compete? The answer is - more now than ever.
Sometimes in last year or maybe last to last year "Like Button" was introduced, and very soon every webpage on the planet started to have a "Like This" button. (Even this page has one, please like/recommend it. Thank you :-) The concept is pretty neat. Your friends see that you like/recommend Bellicose beliefs, and they will probably come and read what is it. If they "like" it, it goes on virally. Alternatively, if you come to Bellicose Beliefs two years later and you see that one of your friends like it, you will be more interested in reading the content. This is a win win situation for the web admins/ bloggers/ any other website and probably that is the reason for it becoming so popular, so soon. Now looking at the other aspect, facebook has a record of all the pages you like and your friends like and their friends like. So, they are more close to figuring out your taste, your work, your life and provide you better ads/recommendations. Everything tailored, just for you.
Now let's see how google tracks internet usage - "Ads by Google". Most of the ads you see over the internet are served by Google's Ad server. Every ad stores a cookie onto your PC and this helps track the click, the content. All this is done on a very broad scale and the results are generated so that they are fit for a majority of people who fall under the same category. This is where difference sneaks in. Google does not track individuals, it just track the pattern formed by many users and uses that pattern to server ads, which might not be suited for you, but are suited for a majority of population. It works.
What's the need for a search engine?
Probably you've started to notice it. Every single link you share, every single web content you "like/recommend" comes in your facebook search box. So, if you are looking for something that you probably have liked in past, just go to search box and start typing it's name. You will see it coming there as in the diagram below.
Does facebook pose a serious threat to Google's main source of revenue?
In order to understand this, we first need to figure out what is Google's main source of revenue. Google's main source of revenue is Adwords which accounted for USD 23b in 2009 (http://investor.google.com/fin_data.html).
Facebook's revenues for 2009 were as
- $125 million from brand ads
- $150 million from Facebook's ad deal with Microsoft
- $75 million from virtual goods
- $200 million from self-service ads. (http://www.businessinsider.com/breaking-down-facebooks-revenues-2009-7)
This total amounts to USD 550m or USD 0.55b. Facebook's total revenue in 2009 is 46 times smaller than the revenue of Google Adwords.'Looking at this figure it is clear that Facebook is not posing a serious threat to Google's revenue.
Now here is the present scenario. Facebook Like Button on various sites, Facebook places, Facebook questions - Facebook knows which content you like/read, where you visit and what are your doubts. Using this data, Facebook can possibly come up with an Ad Sever that has if not more, equal powers as the Google Ad Servers. If they come up with this, and you start seeing "Ads by Facebook" instead of "Ads by Google", then the war will get more interesting.
The social web - by Google
In this particular text, I will try to figure out, how the web could be more social with the help of Google. Google already has, and in much better form what facebook is offering - social interaction, videos, emails, news, web search but in separated forms. Things are are at different URLs and one must remember/click/bookmark each location. Let's say Google comes up with a social web - a portal that is sufficient for all your needs and is social, I would call it GoSocial. It would be a mashup of Google Search, Gmail, Buzz, Picasaweb, Docs, Music Search, YouTube, Blogger, Knol, Groups, Latitude and Maps. So you can upload pictures which will be stored in your picasaweb albums. You can blog and your blogsppot.com address shall be linked to your GoSocial account. You can upload videos on GoSocial and they will be stored and served by YouTube. You can create documents and share them with Google Docs running in the backend. You can interact with groups and can create questions and answers with the Google Groups engine in background. You can create community pages with the help of Knol. You can use Latitude to implement a feature similar to facebook places, even better in some aspects. Maybe, I need to think more so that I can come up with a possible layout of this social web. But this is my general idea. I am a die hard Google fan. Everytime I visit their numerous services, I can picture different modules of a system which is highly social, real time and most important of all is not evil, lying around. In my personal opinion it's time to come up with a version of web, which is more social and Google, you can do it.
Over the decade, Google has helped build the web, make it safe, clean and present the data in an organized manner to all the inhabitants on the planet. Why let someone else harness it when it essentially belongs to its creator.
There are many more things in my mind to write about, so keep watching for a second part of this post