Are Facebook and Google rivals? No, not really.
As the, well, buzz, about Google Buzz reached a fever pitch yesterday, voices seemed to be indicating that as a tech innovation, Google's social media platform underwhelmed -- some even going so far as to say if it's not going to kill Facebook, why bother.
But why would Google care what Facebook does? During Tuesday's event announcing Buzz, Google execs kept shrugging at suggestions that they were competing directly with Facebook and Twitter, and presented their new product as an evolution for Google and an attempt to manage personal social data streams. Sure, that's spin to some extent, but it's also surely Google's attitude toward development of the product. It seems likely that down the road, Buzz -- if it takes off -- will interact with and augment those other so-oft-mentioned social platforms.
Google Buzz doesn't take aim at killing Facebook. Now, would Google mind if its product rendered Facebook and Twitter irrelevant? Of course not. But it's not counting on that. And unlike Twitter, Google makes its money by selling ads. Its base for these ads in Gmail had been on a steady upward trajectory for years. It's likely that this was flattening out, as the company ran out of new people to sign up.
How then, to create new ad inventory? Introduce a product that would create exponentially more inventory. To this end, Google may not be concerned with anything that either Facebook or Twitter do. Twitter has a terrific technology, and it has shown what's possible on the real-time Web. And Google took notice. As long as Google is staying relevant, selling ads and growing, why should it be concerned with "killing" anything?
Let's just say, Facebook isn't going to weigh in on the National Broadband Plan in any way as significant as the experimental fiber network Google announced Wednesday, any time soon.
And that broadband and wi-fi initiative of Google leads us to parts two and three of Buzz's significance. The fingerprints of Google's mobile play are all over Buzz -- from the location tagging to the map integration -- and Google gave clear forethought to how this will work with Android. However, they never missed an opportunity to add "or iPhone device" every time they mentioned Buzz's mobils capabilities.
One company that Google clearly does see as a rival is Apple, and this might be hubris, or ego, or a media war where Google fights desperately to not be cast as the new "PC," as Microsoft fades to the background.
Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product marketing at Google, did his best Steve Jobs Tuesday, while taking pains to be the anti-Jobs. How so? Well. for starters, Apple's release of its iPad a couple of weeks ago was closed to the public. Anyone wanting to watch the announcement from outside the room had to track down a pirate feed (broadcast by a blogger with an iMac turned to face the stage); anyone wanting to watch Google's Buzz presentation could view the live stream on a specially created YouTube channel, which then archived the video.
Horowitz took special pains, it seemed, to distance his talk from Jobs', telling the audience that the release doesn't indicate the product is "done."
And one could be forgiven for thinking back to Apple's invitation to "Come see our latest creation," which sounds like nothing so much as an unveiling, when Horowitz said: "We don't think that's how a product like this is built. You don't pull off the covers on a completely finished work."
His statement, "We are going to do everything we can to make this play nicely in the [social media] ecosystem," sounds about as far from Apple as it's possible to get.
Gee, Facebook is increasingly broken and Google attempts to fix the overall experience, so those who want to share can have greater utility and choice. But you criticize them for being helpful. By that logic, we should have remained content with Yahoo! as a search engine.
Facebook is great, but let's not kill competition (and innovation!) by imagining a pistol in Google's hand.