Google Targets Facebook

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Recent buzz centers around Facebook and Google interactions ever since a presentation by Paul Adams, the user research lead of Google’s social team , revealed some of Google’s plans for social networking.

In the presentation, Google sets out how it defines social and demonstrates why that definition showcases Facebook’s biggest weakness. Individuals have many groups of people they interact with, according to the presentation, and their ties to those groups can be strong, weak, or even temporary, like the barista who made your most recent coffee. You may want one group, such as family or co-workers, to be able to view parts of your online life, but not others.

When it comes to sorting groups, Facebook offers only the “friends” functionality, which is difficult to navigate (much, unfortunately, like Facebook’s privacy settings, as its VP for public policy, Elliot Schrage, admitted to the New York Times ). Instead, Facebook sorts items for our newsfeeds according to how often we interact with (like, comment, post to, view, throw sheep at, etc) individuals. The ones we interact with the most are the most likely to show up in our newsfeed.

Google has been cagey in the past about discussing its plans for social networking, but Allen’s presentation makes it clear that Google intends to give users more control over the groups they’re associated with, such as the ability to send a message to a specific group and tools to manage how they appear online.

Facebook should take the challenge seriously, given their other issues, which include a lack of transparency, their intricate and sometimes changing Terms of Service and the aforementioned privacy concerns ( ), and viruses. Some users are opting out and the company’s growth in America has slowed drastically in 2010.

Privacy issues are a concern for Facebook, but it should be noted that Google has experienced its own share of criticism for its privacy practices and a privacy investigation in Canada . Recently its social network, Buzz, was blasted for automatically connecting users , although Google was quick to fix the flaw.

Facebook has been targeting Google in turn with its Open Graph protoco l. Web pages that include Open Graph information can show up on Facebook in user profiles and news feeds, as well as in search results. Given Facebook’s number of users, many websites are adopting the protocol and figuring out how to optimize their sites to appear on Facebook.

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