Facebook IPO & the Dark, Dirty Secrets of Facebook vs. Google Data

As I baked muffins to celebrate Facebook’s IPO, it occurred to me that there’s one HUGE, unspoken difference between the data people reveal to Facebook and what Google collects through search and other tools.  It’s this: Facebook knows the image you want to project to the world – your “social resume”. Beautiful vacation photos; that perfect profile photo you Photoshopped so much that your nose is part puma, part Joan Rivers; and those photos of you surrounded by hot girls that lets the world (and Facebook) know that your party never stops.

Well, Google knows your dark, ugly, dirty truths.  Your transcribed Google Voice messages reveal you argued nonstop on that island vacation as your kids yelled, “I hate you!” in the background.  Your search history shows all your liposuction research, as your Photoshop bills skyrocket.  Several of your eHarmony dates have jumped through glass storefronts to escape your shocking, incongruous looks.  Google also knows where you’ve been – HOME!!! Your Android phone tattles like a four year old bribed with brownies. It reports your every move and it knows you’ve barely moved. You haven’t been invited to a hot party since October ’09, when you made your one friend wait two hours as you caked on makeup, trying to look your very beast…I mean ‘best’, before leaving the house.

What I’m saying is – you have two lives.  The pretty, inauthentic one you construct on Facebook and the one where Mistress Sally from Craigslist walks on your face with stilettos wrapped in bacon. (Don’t ask…I just write whatever my imagination conjures.)  Point is, that disparity creates a very different value proposition for the two companies. As Google mines your dark side, Facebook scrapes away at your veneer to get to it.

Differences in Value and Usefulness

Google’s data, especially now, is pervasive, personal, and follows you across platforms.  If you saw everything Google knows about you in one place, it might shock you into trading in Mistress Sally for Sally Struthers. Using tools like cookies, email, and Chrome browser, Google stitches together a documentary about you, while Facebook is more of a scripted series.  The company’s IPO will reveal if that show is Seinfeld or Homeboys in Outer Space.   (I suspect it’s the former.)

So which data will companies pay more for?  Depends on the company. Social bonds reveal subtleties, but they’d never tell Preparation H that you have “a problem”, like Google might.  I haven’t seen how many ‘likes’ the Prep H fan page has, but I bet you it’s fewer than Kim Kardashian’s…though both rose to fame in the same general region.

Most companies will be happy with what Facebook offers – a peek at your past and present.  Google also sells them a peek at your hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

There’s also a pull vs. push situation when placing ads with the two companies. On Facebook, you push ads to people based on likes and preferences. For example, people are more likely to respond to ads with funny dog videos, Tony Robbins-like messages of hope, and ads for handbags you crave but can’t afford. On Google, you often seek things out proactively through search . Since its properties span news, shopping, entertainment and many more, advertisers can help you buy a new dog or a new “digital innovation strategy”.

The Great, Frictionless Equalizer

Today, on Google, you’re used to clicking on new and strange links, since you’re searching for new and strange things.  Plus, you think no one is watching and you’ve learned to ignore the creepy, ultra-clairvoyant ads inside of Gmail. On Facebook, you’ve been trained to click on things endorsed by friends.  Google recognized that, so it launched Google+.  There are many things to like about Google+, but it’s evolving as an impersonal network for ideas and hobbies rather than a personal one about relationships. For now, Facebook has a lock on your personal preferences, Blossom fan club membership, and relationship patterns.

The great equalizer is Facebook’s foray into The Dark Side is  frictionless sharing. It’s exactly what it sounds like – scary! It shares your steamy browsing activity on participating sites, without you laboring to click a “Like” button.  It can also require that you sign up for certain apps, like The Guardian or Washington Post, to read stories inside of Facebook.  Of course all of this will be shared, unless you have a PhD in Facebook Privacy Settings.  If it gets mass adoption (without a user revolt), this virus-like behavior will reveal ALL your browsing movements to Facebook’s corporate customers (marketers, good and evil) and occasionally, to your friends.  Your illusion of anonymity will keep this system profitable…and hopefully, your bikini pics out of your boss’s feed.

So which is worth more?

For now, it’s Google.  The main reason is it has more powerful tools in Android and Chrome to get inside your life’s Operating System, the way Facebook can’t quite yet.  That will soon change.  After Facebook goes public, it will be pressured to grow.  Don’t be surprised when you see Facebook phones, browsers, and payments mechanisms scattered throughout the web and your life.  And, you can bet all these new features will be dressed in stilettos, wrapped in investor dollars, and doing their best to walk all over Google.

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10 Comments

  1. |perceive Facebook is peaking as users begin to spend less time on it, by following them out of Facebook by the frictionless sharing FB achieves what Myspace failed to do by expanding it coverage and remaining relevant. Will this be enough to continue to make FB relevant to people or will the public sale indicate that it is running out of road? I think Google and Googleplus is certainly the one to watch unless FB can come up with a game changer, I suggest the trend will be that Googleplus networks value will attract people more than FB.

    • Author
      Steve Faktor February 1, 2012

      Michael, my take is that these networks are evolving very differently. Facebook is becoming less and less personal by opening itself up to brands subscriptions and app clutter in its feed. Many people don’t even see their friend’s stuff anymore. It’s evolving into a more personal Google Reader. It’s hard to say when it will jump the shark, but it’s already getting hard to manage and customize. In many ways pinterest is an example of how simple a social site can be.

      As for G+, I think the lack of API makes sharing a pain, but I know Google wants to keep people on its properties. Still, I like certain things and not others. It’s also very impersonal. Both are essentially evolving into public sharing networks. This whole thing will change again as someone come up with something better. Happened to Friendster, Myspace and again to FB.

      • John O'Connor February 2, 2012

        To my knowledge, the Google+ API is currently out, in fact, you can use your Google+ login to access this webpage.

        • Author
          Steve Faktor February 2, 2012

          Hey John, yes, the login works. But from what my developer friends tell me is the G+ API is not yet mature. For example, most third party tools (like HootSuite and Tweetdeck) aren’t yet able to integrate G+ feeds or let you post through their platforms. Also, there is no RSS feed generator. Maybe it’s all just a matter of time, but I can see why Google would have tried to go without it to ensure it can control your experience (and its revenue stream) on their own real estate. They’ll probably have to capitulate to compete.

  2. Rob Klaproth February 2, 2012

    Facebook has one thing going for it in a big way. Almost every web site on the internet is now connected to Facebook, including this very one I’m posting my comment on now. With that “connect to facebook” convenience offered to users, it’s harder and harder to resist.

    • Author
      Steve Faktor February 2, 2012

      Rob, couldn’t agree more. This is the razor and blades model. What people and businesses don’t yet realize is that despite its profits, Facebook is still in the “giving away razors” phase. Just wait until they start charging for all that traffic they deliver in 2013 or 2014.

  3. “It reports your every move and it knows you’ve barely moved. You haven’t been invited to a hot party since October ’09, when you made your one friend wait two hours as you caked on makeup, trying to look your very beast…I mean ‘best’, before leaving the house.”

    This made me laugh! It sounds a bit scary if you think about it, but it’s absolutely true. I think however that your dark, dirty secrets as you put is far more valuable than the fake one. Still a combination of the fake that FBook collects the real that Google mines would be the Holy Grail. This is where Google I think is, in my view, far far ahead of FBook.

    Every lover of FBook are saying that FBook is a great threat to Google, and I think for at least write now FBook is more a hype than anything else. If Google gets what it wants FBook can go to hell unless they are going to be a search engine as well with Google’s algorithms. Possible, but not likely. FBook however will continue to have great value, but how long does it take a company to learn how to make money? Six years?

    • Author
      Steve Faktor February 2, 2012

      Andrae, glad I made you laugh. You might also want to check out my other posts that are equally amusing:
      The 15 Faces of Facebook: http://www.ideafaktory.com/social-media/15-faces-of-facebook-and-what-to-sell-them/
      Death of Masculinity: http://www.ideafaktory.com/trends/profiting-from-death-of-masculinity/

      As for your points, I agree that the Holy Grail would be the combination of the two types of data. You definitely see Google trying to get into your personal and family relationships, while Facebook tries to become more broad. Now, you barely recognize half the people posting in your FB feed. Half are subscriptions, while the rest aren’t even people! They’re companies. At some point, FB becomes the old AOL, a closed environment that pretty much mimics the open internet, but less open.

      On the profitability side, I think FB is very profitable – more than Google was when it went public. The growth will slow down with 800+ million people already subscribed. Last year, it was 39%.

  4. Steve, great post! So which is worth more? Obviously Google until FB gets that “game changer” and finds a few other large revenue streams then just ads. Until then, might as well make a buck off the hype of the IPO?

    • Author
      Steve Faktor February 9, 2012

      Thanks, Chris! Yes, there’s not much growth left in the number of users, but plenty in selling things to existing ones. The thing they’ll have to keep in mind is most people are in “entertainment mode” on Facebook and not in business mode. They’ll have to stick to that more closely. Pushing commerce into it could turn a lot of people off.

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