Is Either Google or Facebook the Model of the Internet’s Future?

Lynne Kiesling

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, claims that Google’s information and relationship model is top-down, Big Brother, while Facebook’s is bottom up and organic means of creating and gathering information based on social networks. He’s been making this claim quite vocally lately, and this Wired article provides a detailed discussion of the issues raised in the competition between Facebook and Google “for the future of the Internet” <doom music>DAH DAH DUH</doom music>.

I think Zuckerberg has a point in one area, and that is searches that arise from recommendations from your friends.

Today, the Google-Facebook rivalry isn’t just going strong, it has evolved into a full-blown battle over the future of the Internet—its structure, design, and utility. For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.

But here’s the challenge: one core feature that is a key to Facebook’s success may also be its biggest limitation, and that’s what its users will and will not allow Facebook to do with their private information. There are plenty of Facebook users who, like me, are fairly specific about the breadth and depth of our information sharing, and how far down the social network web we allow that information to go. Facebook settings allow us to control that, and if they didn’t, lots of folks (including me) would not use it.

Similarly, Google is very clear in its position about how it treats private information that is “in the cloud”, but I don’t think its business model is going to be as constrained by privacy concerns as Facebook’s will be.

My answer to the question heading this post is “who knows?” Not having a crystal ball, I suspect that both approaches can probably coexist, and will interact in ways that morph into some other model. I don’t think Google v. Facebook is like VHS v. Betamax, or railroad gauges, or Blue Ray v. HD. There’s enough heterogeneity among individuals using the Internet, and enough plasticity among platform models, that coexistence and synthesis are possible.

Oooh, that’s way more abstract than I meant to be this early on a Monday …

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