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Why Facebook and Google+ are headed in opposite directions

Mike Elgan | Jan. 27, 2014
Facebook is spinning out new products while Google is integrating. But these opposite directions are leading to the same place.

If you had such an entourage of helpers, they would need to know who your spouse, family and friends are -- who to let in and who to keep out. They would know your preferences and interests, and would help you pursue them. That's what Google+ and the so-called Google social layer is all about: letting your entourage know all about the people in your life so they can help you better.

So it's not really about unifying everything with Google+, but about integrating powerful social and identity data into the mix of behavioral, temporal, location and other data to make everything more relevant and tailored to every situation you find yourself in.

That's why Google recently killed off Latitude and the Android Gallery app in favor of Google+ or Google+-centric alternatives. It's why they built Zagat into Google+ and aggressively integrated Google+ with Gmail and YouTube.

It appears to be all about making all "signals" or points of user data available to any Google product in order to improve that product in ways that other companies cannot.

Zeroing in on advertising, which is after all the main business of both Facebook and Google, the outcomes of each company are more or less the same place. Each company is trying to attract the maximum number of eyeballs and serve up extremely relevant, highly personalized ads on both desktop and mobile.

In order to be all things to all people, each needs lots of services, products and apps, but all tied together with each company's social signals and identity.

To achieve this, Facebook needs a lot more products and a lot more "artificial intelligence," which are initiatives the company has explicitly said they'll take.

Google needs to take the many products it's already got and make them a lot more connected to its social and identity information.

So although each company appears to be headed in the opposite direction, they're really competing for the same destination: To add social intelligence to everything you do, plus add identity to everything you do so they know who they're servicing up ads to, while also enabling purchases.

Some day, Facebook might need to stop selling ads on the site altogether in order to compete against Google's ad-free social network. Sure, they'll still harvest social signals from the site, but they'll need a lot more apps for displaying advertising.

The question for Facebook is: Can it launch those apps and get people to use them fast enough to keep users and advertisers from wandering off to the next shiny new thing?

And the question for Google is: Can it integrate its social and identity layers to existing products without freaking people out and making them feel coerced and abused?


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