Thursday 22 April 2010

Why Google should fear Facebook's World Wide Like

Social media watchers now know that Facebook are extending the ability to any website owner to allow their visitors to 'like' any webpage or site beyond the boundaries of the Facebook site. Tweetstats is the first site I've seen using it. We already enjoy being able to share from any webpage or site but like makes it a whole new ball game. Google should be terrified and this is why.

As Techcrunch indicate in their post (see link above) Facebook will essentially be enabling the web to measure itself. Currently Google famously measures the entire web using machines and formulae with a relatively small amount of human intervention. Facebook will get the web to essentially index and rank itself. There can only be one winner in that fight. Crowds beat machines every time. Perhaps Google will step up and roll buzz out further to combat that Facebook expansion? I can't see another solution...Google may have user reach but Facebook has relationship depth. And the required immense traction to go for it.

If Google don't combat Facebook effectively then the end result could be a brand new search interface from Facebook that brings back results based on LikeRank as opposed to Pagerank. A sort of Yahoo (& Delicious') MyRank come good? That idea was just too early and used the wrong tool but it was the right idea.

Ultimately the reason why only Facebook can win this fight with Google is that no matter how smart the Google algorithm is, there is no substitute for the human mind, the human hive and the viral unpredictable qualities of humanity. As Frank Zappa once said:
The computer can't tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what's missing is the eyebrows.
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  1. Doesn't this assume that most people want to be on Facebook?

  2. I'm not sure even Facebook has enough users to effectively rank the web, plus a lot of them seem to be mostly into Farmville and sausage rolls (?).

    That said, I'm in favour of ways to keep me in touch with sites I find interesting. Currently that tends to be via RSS or Twitter, plus a few via Facebook for variety. I need the semantic agent that Timbl has been promising me for years.

  3. Who died and made Facebook king of the web? And David, there are a hell of a lot more people not on Facebook than on. We can go anywhere we want on the web anyway. What's Facebook got to do with anything?

  4. Thanks for all your comments.

    David: well 300m is a good start I suppose. And re your twitter point about most people you'd want to rank the web not being on FB, well for me, I use FB for work and play connections and derive much work value from my FB stream and connections.

    Steve: The mundanity is the same problem Google has to deal with, and sadly, whether we like it or not, if people want farmville and sausage rolls then who are we to dictate? I think though that what we gain from computer rank we lose i.e. common sense and real connections, which is precisely why the semantic web is even on the agenda. Although I doubt it will ever genuinely amount to much to be honest. We are so busy trying to paint eyebrows on computers that perhaps we should attempt to solve the problem from the other side, which is precisely what FB are doing. Start with people and then add in machines.

    Frank: I don't think it's about King of the web, it's just that Facebook have a huge volume of users who will now be invited by Facebook to click the 'like' button on sites they like. Stumbleupon have been doing it for years as has and other social bookmarking services and so this is really FB moving laterally into social bookmarking or social ranking.

    I suspect David supports your point that the volume is not there. Personally 300m is a pretty good place to start and could easily start to compete with Google's server capacity surely.

  5. It's a threat for sure - and will change the shape of the web (or at least has massive potential to) further - but for many of my searches I actually want a factually based algorithm to point me to possible answers, not what emotional humans have deigned in their own quirky way to be of interest.

    It'll be interesting to watch evolve, but surely what you'll get is results skewed to the "likes" of early adopters and geeks (certainly for some time to come) - which isn't a bad thing for certain searches, but could actually narrow my search.

    Now of course with 400m+ users if you offer a search facility in the page they most have open then they ain't gonna click to open another tab and call up a different search engine - much like most users will call up google and type a URL into the search field rather than typing it into the URL field in their browser first off - but I still think there's a big place for Google and its robot hordes.

    However I have to say - as someone who came off FaceBook a couple of years back, these kind of advances and potential are tempting me back in. I just have to learn to be more blunt with people I lost touch with years ago for a reason and (as Zammo told us) "just say no".

  6. Alex: Many thanks for the comment. I agree there is still a place for both people and machine ranking systems but I am excited that this will shake up google and provide them with the first decent competitor for a while.

    The results will be fascinating, both of the search and of the overall impact of the project.

    And re Zammo, as Emily Dickinson said: 'The soul selects its own society' so feel free to not connect with some :)