But I’m talking about winning, about sitting at the poker table with a huge pile of chips in front of you, opposite some dude who’s got a huge pile of chips in front of him, and you’re holding some kind of good hand, a full house or straight flush maybe, and you decide to go all in.
The dude across Facebook’s table is Google, of course, and three things are making me wonder where the spoils will go.
First up: the announcement two weeks ago that Facebook is testing in-app search. As TechCrunch reported, “Alongside buttons to add photos or locations, some iOS users are seeing a new ‘Add A Link’ option. Just punch in a query, and Facebook will show a list of matching links you might want to share… If rolled out to all users, it would let them avoid Googling or digging through Facebook’s News Feed to find a link to share.”
Did you catch that? It would let them avoid Googling. No more clumsy tab-switching or copy-pasting. There’s a pretty clear use case for this, and it’s not hard to imagine a quick and widespread uptake.
Second: the hullaballoo over Internet.org, Facebook’s “free” Internet program for developing nations. I put “free” in quotation marks but really I should put “Internet” in quotation marks, because, while the program is in fact free, it only gives you access to a small handful of sites.
Hence the hullaballoo, in the form of companies like Times Group, Cleartrip and Flipkart pulling their content from the platform, and an open letter accusing Facebook of violating the principals of net neutrality, signed by 67 digital rights groups.
Is the uprising indicative of the initiative’s inevitable failure? I doubt it. Facebook has made far bigger screw-ups along the way, provoking far greater ire. Remember when it automatically changed all our privacy settings without telling us? Remember when it gave us all new email addresses and set them as the default contact without asking us? Remember Beacon? Each time, the company shrugs off the backlash and keeps moving forward. I’d say the number of people delighted to get access to even a walled garden is far greater then the number of people outraged over the garden’s walls.
Third, the integration, Borg-like, of traditional news media into the Facebook platform. (The astute reader will recall that I wrote about this a few weeks ago, in a column titled, “Digital Democracy? More Like Digital Dictatorship.”)
And where does Google sit on each of these initiatives? In-app search is a clear and present danger to the search giant. If there’s one thing the human race has proven over and over again, it is that we are lazy creatures of habit. If I tried to get people to go to a new and different site in order to search, forget it. But drop a search function into a site that I already visit habitually, and allow me to skip the extra effort of switching sites to find content, and I’m in.
Free Internet access for everyone? Google’s Project Loon -- free balloon-powered Internet for everyone -- may be accelerating, but it’s still a ways from becoming widely available, and Internet.org has a first-mover advantage, with over 9 million people already using the service.
And integrated news? Right now, Google News links directly to news outlets. Will Google be surfacing that same content as readily once it’s embedded within Facebook?
Facebook leans forward, using both hands to push its entire stack of chips into the middle of the table. Will Google blink?