Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Google's Facebook Fixation Quest for Social Network Dominance Has Transformed Company

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Google's Facebook Fixation Quest for Social Network Dominance Has Transformed Company

Article excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google co-founder Larry Page has a Facebook fixation.

When he replaced his mentor Eric Schmidt as Google's CEO last April, Mr. Page insisted that the company had to be more aggressive about countering the threat posed by Facebook's ever-growing popularity.

That social networking crusade is still reshaping Google Inc. as he marked his one-year anniversary as chief executive on Wednesday.

The Facebook obsession has already led to Google's creation of its own social network, Google Plus, and inspired changes in Google's privacy practices and Internet search results. Those changes have raised questions about whether the Internet's most powerful company has forsaken its "Don't Be Evil" motto in its zeal to protect its online advertising empire.

"Facebook awoke Google to its shortcomings in the social aspect of the Internet. It wasn't something that could be ignored," said Steven Levy, whose book "In The Plex" provided an inside look at Google's origins and evolution over 14 years.

Fretting about Facebook may seem like overkill, given Google's dominance of the Internet's lucrative search and advertising market. Last year, Google sold $36.5 billion in advertising -- 10 times more than Facebook's $3.2 billion.

But Mr. Page realized Facebook has been carving out a competitive advantage that could be leveraged to topple Google.

Since its 2004 inception, Facebook has been stockpiling valuable information about people's social circles and interests. The volume of insightful data pouring into Facebook has mushroomed along with its service's popularity. That has provided Facebook with the means to target ads more precisely and deliver content tied to a user's hobbies and tastes.

Google couldn't use most of that data to refine its search engine and other products, which is why it developed its own social network.

Since its debut nine months ago, Google Plus has attracted more than 100 million users. Although it lags Facebook's 845 million, the number is far greater than Facebook's tally at that stage in its history. …

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