Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: When Envy Cuts Both Ways

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: When Envy Cuts Both Ways

Article excerpt

As Facebook cranks up its search function, rumours of a Google social networking project abound.

Cary Grant's impoverished aristocrat in The Grass is Greener is a study in insouciance. When his wife, played by Deborah Kerr, is swept off her feet by Texan millionaire Robert Mitchum, Grant seems unperturbed, but we can sense his pain. He is trying to look composed, but underneath he is seeking the brashness and confidence that will win him back his wife.

Like these love rivals, the two most successful companies on the web, Google and Facebook, come from very different places.

Google's revolutionary proposition distances it from all those websites seeking 'stickiness' - the retention of visitors for as long as possible. The search engine's purpose is to draw in visitors and send them away again as quickly as possible. For its users, the point isn't to hang around.

Google is the ultimate crowdsourced business. Its PageRank system hinges on the number and quality of sites presenting links to other websites This is how it measures the relevance of its content to users.

But it doesn't stop there. The billions of searches that occur every day give Google a unique insight into what people are interested in, what they think, say and buy. All this data is used to make the search engine more effective. It gives Google a huge competitive advantage - this data allows the search engine to improve its yield from every visit.

Facebook exists at the other end of the spectrum. It is built for leisurely browsing - checking out your friends' updates, connecting with new people. The average member uses the site for 34 minutes a day, and half its users log in daily.

The social network has 500m users. Their interaction with each other - their public messages and activity such as pressing the 'like' button - creates a social graph. Facebook has powerful data at its fingertips - about what people are interested in, what they think, say and buy.

This mutual appreciation of data is why Google and Facebook are eyeing each other with jealousy.

Earlier this year, Facebook unveiled the Open Graph Protocol - a code that integrates web pages into social graphs (Facebook uses it to give any web page the same functionality as a Facebook page). Just as Google's algorithm values inbound links to websites, causing SEO practitioners to 'linkbait', Facebook values 'likes' - the means by which users express approval of things on the site. …

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