An Interesting Rivalry: Facebook and Google

A few days ago, a good friend of mine invited me to a wedding. I was checking the details of the wedding location on Facebook when I noticed to my delight that Facebook displayed a map of the location below the address. How nice of Facebook to make it so easy for me to visualize locations. So I thought, with a bit of scepticism, what if the map isn’t right? After confirming with Google maps, I was happy to know Facebook’s map was accurate. It was at this point I made an interesting realization: Facebook does not use Google maps! Facebook uses Bing instead. We all know Google is the king of maps, so what prompted Facebook to avoid Google. Surely, there’s more to this than coincidence. So I did a bit of digging.

It turns out that Zuckerberg had had talks with Google in the past about possibly letting Google handle search queries Facebook can not handle itself, but he wasn’t satisfied with Google’s terms of service. Apparently, Google’s privacy policy was too inflexible for Zuckerberg’s liking. Microsoft, on the other hand, was more flexible in their privacy terms. Facebook wants its search suppliers to be able to remove Facebook users’ details quickly if need be based on user privacy settings. So, it will seem that Google takes its mission statement: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful much more seriously than keeping data private for business customers. Well, we can’t blame Google much for this. What else will you do if you are the biggest Search Engine company in the world? As a side note, how much of the world’s internet traffic does Google actually handle? According to Forbe’s article ‘Fascinating Number: Google Is Now 40% Of The Internet’, Google is responsible for 40% of internet traffic. To get a more visual context of this figure, consider this: On August 16, 2013, all of Google services were down for a few minutes. Here’s what the graph of global internet usage looked like in that period.


Courtesy of GoSquared in their article

Also, it turns out that Microsoft is a Facebook investor, which must have given it some leverage in negotiating with Facebook. That’s the way, Microsoft! Do your thing.

Now, having cleared up why Facebook doesn’t use Google for search, I found out something even more interesting. Facebook is testing its very own search engine! Facebook introduced Graph Search in March 2013. Graph search is considered to give you results instead of links like traditional search engines and you can use it to search for places, people, pages, check-ins, objects with location information, posts and comments. Imagine being able to search for people ‘who are single in London and from Nigeria’. If you’re looking for buddies to go watch that geeky movie, you could search for people ‘who like star wars and star trek’ and Facebook will check through your friends list and potentially through the rest of its 1 billion user base to find answers based on what your friends have shared with you privately and what Facebook users share publicly. That this could take a chunk out of Google’s search shares should be quite obvious. It appears that English users in the USA have now been using Graph Search since August last year. Hopefully we here in the UK get to try it out soon. Facebook is most likely looking to get more and more of its users to become comfortable searching for things on Facebook, starting with social entities, which Facebook is already well known for. I assume they believe it’s only a matter of time before they roll things out into general search. Eventually, Facbook could also make a killing in advertising revenues as businesses fight tooth and nail to rank highly on Graph Search.

So, what can Google do about it? Well, Google will need to continue what it’s already doing – engaging its huge user base. From the recent Google I/O we can see that Google has big plans for the future, from integrating Android into smart watches, to cars – Android Auto, to improving the OS and user experience on Android phones, to allowing you use Android apps on TV (Android TV), to making it possible to use your cherished Android apps on Chromebooks. Basically, Google plans to make your life revolve around Android in the near future. If things go according to plan for Google, you may wake up a few years from now and think back saying “How did we ever live without Android back in the day?” From what we’ve seen in recent years, Google has been making conscientious efforts to integrate its services, providing a rather seamless experience for users. On my Nexus 4 phone for example, I can start doing a Google search at a tap of a button and the search will be done both on my phone and on the web. How cool is that? The idea is that the tighter Google keeps you around its ecosystem of products, the more reluctant you will be to try out other things.

Nevertheless, Google may want to consider this so-called semantic search method Facebook is using in one way or another rather than just sticking to keywords.

As these two companies continue to innovate and compete, we can expect to see more and more interesting features produced to make our lives easier and more pleasurable. Let’s see what these tech giants have up their sleeves as this rivalry unfolds.