Who's God: Facebook or Google?

Bambi Francisco Roizen · March 5, 2009 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/736

Social network takes notes from Twitter and FriendFeed to become global news feed

 Which omnipotent, omnipresent, digital deity will reign supreme? Google has all of your private data (searches, email) and Facebook has your public data (your profile, your friends.)

With the upcoming launch of its new homepage, and its ambition to connect the world with the "continuous stream of information," Facebook is sure sounding a lot like Google, whose mission is to organize the world's information, and who was once referred to as "God," by New York Times writer Thomas Friedman in his column, "Is Google God?"

These days, you might ask yourself: Is Facebook God?

After all, Facebook is becoming a large database of information, and it's becoming so by taking a lot of notes from Twitter's real-time features and FriendFeed's aggregated sharing features.

Next week, Facebook plans to launch a new homepage, with a big emphasis on real-time streams and sharing.

Besides the new home page, which is more organized to allow people to share and receive real-time streams, Facebook has created new profiles for public figures and organizations.

From Zuckerberg's post: "Once called Pages, these new profiles will now begin looking and functioning just like user profiles. Just as you connect with friends on Facebook, you can now connect and communicate with celebrities, musicians, politicians and organizations. These folks will now be able to share status updates, videos, photos or anything else they want, in the same way your friends can already. You'll be able to keep up with all of their activity in your News Feed. This means that you can find out that Oprah is reading a book backstage before a show, CNN posted a breaking story or U2 is working on a new song, just as you would see that your friend uploaded new photos from her trip to Europe."

The Facebook evolution

Given the launch and Zuckerberg's recent blog post, I thought it was a good time to look back on just how Facebook evolved, since I first met with Mark Zuckerberg at the time he was about 21/22, and started following Facebook.

Back in 2006, when I was a columnist at MarketWatch, I predicted that social networks would be a great way to distribute news. I certainly wasn't alone. Back then Facebook was already testing out ways publishers could easily share their news with the Facebook community, and it launched "news feed," which I was a big fan of. At the time, I said that Facebook's news feed was turning it into the equivalent of a tabloid, except that the news being consumed wasn't about our favorite celebrities, but about ourselves. 

As I said at the time, "We live in an age where what we do, and who we are, is the news. What's the difference in how people get it?" Fast forward, and this statement is truer than ever.

I just didn't account for a tiny unknown company called Twitter. 

Now we can see how information, and importantly news can be distributed in lightning speed thanks to Twitter, which captures the ambient noise... err news from CNN, and information from me, to celebrities, like Britney Spears with 200k-plus followers, to politicians to television shows. Posting links to stories has become a dominant form of sharing information. Then FriendFeed came along last year, and showed us that automating the process of sharing every activity on the Web was even smarter and more efficient.

Clearly Facebook, which has tried to buy Twitter, has been taking notes closely, as you can see from the new homepage.

Zuckerberg wrote a nice update on his blog regarding Facebook's evolution, and the changes taking place in 2009. At the start, in 2004, Facebook was a directory for Harvard students. Over time, people could share photos, videos, etc. By 2006, Facebook allowed the activity to be shared in a news feed. In 2007, Facebook "popularized the Social Graph," wrote Zuckerberg. "The idea is that these connections—whether friendships, affiliations or interests—exist already in the real world, and all we're trying to do is map them out," he wrote.

In 2008, Facebook redesigned a person's "wall"  so others could quickly understand what's happening with that person. The wall "was a big step in our evolution because it moved Facebook in the direction of helping people share immediate experiences with one another: a thought, a status, a photo, a note, a feeling," wrote Zuckerberg. 

As Facebook continues to bring people together - it has 175 million members today, quite a leap from under 10 million in 2006 - you can see its mission to collect the world's information and make it accessible.

"As people share more, the timeline gets filled in more and more with what is happening with everything you're connected to," wrote Zuckerberg. "The pace of updates accelerates. This creates a continuous stream of information that delivers a deeper understanding for everyone participating in it. As this happens, people will no longer come to Facebook to consume a particular piece or type of content, but to consume and participate in the stream itself."

It's a grand statement, for sure. Hmm.

And, like I said above, it sounds a lot like Google's mission statement to organize the world's information. But Facebook seems to be more intimately connected with the individual.

So, who's God now? 

 (Image source: magnetreps.com)
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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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