You know how curly-haired girls always want to have straight hair and straight-haired girls always want curly? Meanwhile, those of us with wavy hair long for definitiveness, one way or the other. The hair always seems more attractive on the other side of the Good Hair Day.
And, if the media reports are anything to go by, Google and Facebook seem to be eyeing each other with a similar brand of envy. A few weeks ago, Facebook began serving up Open Graph-enabled web pages in search results, while last week rumors solidified around Google Me, the follow-up social net to the ill-fated Buzz.
Of course, as much as we secretly admire each other's tresses, there's a part of us that knows it's just not healthy to covet -- so, genuinely or not, we disown our desire and seek to be at peace. After all, what's the point of trying to be something you're not?
Facebook doesn't disappoint in this regard either. Not four days after the Open Graph/search announcement came the disclaimer that company strategists weren't actually interested in search. Google principals didn't make any commensurate comments about not being interested in building a social network, but my colleague Catharine Taylor made the point for them: the world isn't looking to Google for a Facebook replacement.
The thing is, all the comparisons of user numbers and traffic and growth rates seem to omit one fundamental catalyst: that we turn to each site for a different purpose and with a different mindset. When I hear that search query volume is growing faster on Facebook than on traditional search engines, my reaction is, "So?" A search on Facebook is context-specific: we only search there for information we expect to be housed on Facebook itself. It's like a search on eBay, Amazon, or Wikipedia, not a replacement for a search on Google.
Likewise, the fact that Google has organized the world's information doesn't mean I want it to handle my relationships -- not least because my peeps just aren't there. Back in the '50s, Frederick Herzberg published his Motivation-Hygiene Theory, which says that hygiene factors -- salary notable among them -- don't actually motivate people to work. Instead, their absence or insufficiency leads to dissatisfaction. When it comes to social networks, features ain't a motivator; they're a hygiene factor. Google Me might trump Facebook on features, but it won't make a whit of difference because the motivating factor is the social graph. At the risk of repeating some of my previous columns, the reason we're all on Facebook is because we're all on Facebook.
There's one important difference between Google/Facebook and my hair analogy. I want straight hair because I don't want what I've got. Google and Facebook want what they want in addition to what they've got. But our relationships with each are too well-defined to swap either for the other. In the end, I suspect the chasm between search and social will prove too big for any one company to cross.
Do you think Google Me has a shot at social, or that Facebook poses a credible search threat? Leave me a comment here, or find me via @kcolbin.