Google CEO Larry Page didn’t exactly pull any punches in a new Wired interview, especially when it came to his rivals.
When asked about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ very public attempt to go “thermonuclear war” on Android, Page responded: “How well is that working?” When Facebook came up, he accused the social network of “doing a really bad job on their products.” He offered a tad more praise for Apple, suggesting that its focus on a “very, very small number of things” was “working pretty well for them.”
That interview was certainly conducted before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Graph Search, which allows users to search the massive social network for posts, photos, friends, and other content. Unlike the current version of Facebook’s search bar, Graph Search will allow users to make lengthy natural-language queries in search of information; for example, someone interested in recruiting a tech worker might type in something like, “Friends of friends who live in New York and work as Google engineers.”
Facebook had previously partnered with Microsoft’s Bing, which surfaced information about friends’ “Likes” in the context of specific searches—for example, querying after a specific place like “Paris” might also return headshots of your five Facebook friends who publicly “Liked” the City of Light. While Facebook retains a relationship with Bing, it’s clear that the social network has kicked off a massive, years-long process to index the considerable amount of online data under its supervision—a significant challenge to Google, which has no way to crawl and index the substantial majority of information posted to Facebook.
Google and Facebook have been locked in a battle for online advertising dollars for quite some time. But Graph Search escalates the battle to a whole new level: combined with its other recent initiatives, it seems clear that Facebook wants to serve as an everything-to-everyone portal to the online world. Want to VoIP-call a friend? Use Facebook’s latest feature on its iPhone app. Want to shoot that photograph of your half-eaten burger, layer it with a cheesy sepia filter, and send it to your network? Use Instagram, Facebook’s latest big acquisition. Want to market a business? Set up a branded Facebook page.
Which is funny, because Google also wants to become a portal—if not the portal— for everybody’s online experience. It offers a social network (Google+), Web-based apps for getting work done (Google Docs), a site for downloading apps and games (Google Play), maps and images (Google Maps and Images), and even a twee photo-sharing service of its own (Snapseed).
With Graph Search, Facebook increases its utility to everyday users as a source for dates, recruitment, restaurant information, favorite hotels in a particular city, new music and movies… the list goes on and on. It’s the item in Facebook’s arsenal that allows it to finally go toe-to-toe against Google. At stake is billions of dollars in advertising revenue. Larry Page must be wondering whether Facebook can pull it off—and probably hoping it doesn’t.