Turning the Tables: Why Google Will Win and Facebook Will Lose

"Hang on," you're saying to yourself right now, "Isn't this the same Kaila Colbin who, not three weeks ago, predicted Facebook would kick Google's posterior?

Why yes, it is. Facebook has all the habitual strength of Google, turbo-boosted by the inexorable pull of everyone we love. In the battle for ownership of our online attention, that's a powerful advantage.

So why am I arguing the opposite today? Well, to cover my predictive bases for one -- but, more importantly, because the opposite view is potentially much more interesting. We have here the possibility to observe a theory unfolding to which I subscribe wholeheartedly: namely, that companies with a strongly articulated sense of purpose, that adhere to a shared and authentic "why," will over time outperform those that don't.

Inspirer of visionaries John Marshall Roberts talks about the "how, what and why" of business: the what, for example, might be making lots of money, the how is by selling goods or services, and the why is the driving force that gets us out of bed every morning.



The authentic why is the part of what we do that transcends words -- meaning it's also the part that's virtually impossible to fake. The "whys" of Google and Facebook sound similar on the surface: Google's, to organize the world's information and make it universally useful; Facebook's, to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Nonetheless, I believe in Google; I believe in the authenticity of its core purpose. Discontent with the search giant seems more tied to its sheer size than anything else. "No company should have access to this much information about us," we say, "They've been okay so far, but who knows how they'll behave in the future?" We're more bothered by their potential behavior than by their actual behavior.

Facebook's mission, on the other hand, seems tacked-on by investors and grown-ups, long after a 19-year-old Zuckerberg described the kids sharing their information on his site "dumb f***s" for trusting him. To be sure, the vast majority of the social network's 400 million users will never hear about the exchange. And the majority of those who do hear about it --- myself included -- won't abandon our profiles based on a silly comment from a teenager. What we will do, however, is add this straw to the growing pile on our camels' backs, on top of the straw named Beacon, and the one we added after the company defaulted our settings to "public" without asking us, and the ones that got tossed on after Facebook unilaterally decided we wanted to share our data with Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft Docs.

The "authentic why" is so often the deciding factor in long-term marketplace victory because what's underneath gets revealed over time, in a thousand different ways. Even though our day-to-day usage of Facebook isn't predicated on us liking Mark Zuckerberg, it can't be healthy for any company to have so many customers repulsed by the behavior of the chief executive.

Roberts isn't the only person talking about the what, how and why of business; the concept of core purpose and values was articulated by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in the book "Built to Last," and repeated by Simon Sinek in his recent TED talk. But usually, we're looking retrospectively and designing a theory to fit our survivorship bias. In the case of Google and Facebook, we have two companies that both dominate an aspect of our online behavior. It's just that one of them has treated its customers with a reasonable amount of respect while the other hasn't.

Will the why theory prevail? I can't wait to find out.

4 comments about "Turning the Tables: Why Google Will Win and Facebook Will Lose".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Lionel Valdellon from Adchemy, May 18, 2010 at 2:23 p.m.

    The way a company treats its customers will impact its business in the long run. Just because it's enjoying a boom period in its life cycle doesn't mean it can't one day flatline and lose its user base because of another deadly "straw" or CEO faux pas.

  2. Ed Borasky, May 18, 2010 at 3:08 p.m.

    I deleted my Facebook account a week ago. See for the details. But it's not just Facebook and it's not just privacy that are issues. The wider issues are

    a. The "hacker culture" has pushed out disciplined software engineering principles at a huge site, Facebook, and at many smaller sites, like Blippy. These sites handle our identity and financial data and are putting us at financial risk through sheer incompetence.

    b. Monopolistic business practices are the norm for big companies like Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft, and Facebook is heading down that path. They simply do what they can get away with, pay the fines they need to pay to keep doing business, and drive up consumer prices.

  3. Rufus Dogg from DogWalkBlog, May 18, 2010 at 3:38 p.m.

    Google will win because the founders recognized that adults need to be seen as the ones steering the ship. Zuck is just a kid and thinks and acts like a kid entrusted with the family fortune. He is reckless and disrespectful with people's most trusted assets. What he really needs to do is step back and let older, wiser people run the company, even if it is only a really good game of "Wizard behind the curtain."

  4. Niel Robertson from Trada, May 18, 2010 at 11:34 p.m.

    I posted a long comment about this on TC a while ago related to a Sean Parker presentation. The fundamental difference between Google's value and Facebooks is that Google's network effect is all users to all sites. Each new source (website, book, blog, etc..) added (made findable) ads value to me as a node on the network. Facebook is a loosely connected set of subnetworks. The utility of any network is always n^n. N in facebook = number of friends. N in Google = number of searchable sources. I think we can all see why N is higher in Google (or maybe i'm just not that popular).

    That doesn't mean that FB isn't valuable or that the value of the network connection isn't worth more (a referred source is better than an unreferred source) but Google owns the bigger N thus the long term winner. Another way to say this is, unless I become totally passive about what i want (only consume that which is sent to me), FB won't ever have as much utility.

    Just my 2 cents,

Next story loading loading..