Web Search: Picking Sides from the Bleachers
June 5, 2011
One of the interesting characteristics of fans is that shouts can inspire athletes in the game. Here is rural Kentucky, fans can focus on one another. Instead of the usually Southern civility, shouting matches or fisticuffs can break out. The players continue playing as the “game within the game” unfolds.
Fans cheer but whether noise alters the outcome of the game is a matter for a PhD dissertation, not a job, though.
The Gold Team
I read “How Facebook Can Put Google Out of Business.” The write up takes a premise set up by Googler Eric Schmidt, who until recently, was the CEO of the company. The PR-inspired mea culpa positioned Mr. Schmidt as the person who was responsible for Google’s failures in social media. Even before Orkut in 2003, I recall seeing references to social functions in Google’s patent documents prior to Google’s purchase of Orkut and its quite interesting trajectory. As you may know, the path wandered through a legal thicket, toured the more risk filled environs of Brazil, and ended up parked next to the railroad tracks near the Googleplex in Mountain View.
The TechCrunch article pointed out that Facebook has detailed information about its 500 or 600 million “members”. The idea is that Facebook can leverage the information about these members’ in order to create a more compelling “finding” system.
I suppose I can nitpick about the write up, but it presents information that I have touched upon in this Web log for a couple of years. When I read the article, my reaction was, “I thought everyone already knew this.”
The Blue Team
Then I read “The Silliest Idea Ever: Facebook Going After Google In Search.” This write up used a rhetorical technique that I have long employed; namely, taking a contrary position in order to highlight certain features of an issue. In my experience, the approach annoys 30 somethings who have memorized an elevator pitch and want to get back to Call of Duty or their iPhone. However, I enjoy the intellectual exercise and will continue the practice.
The main premise of the “Silliest Idea Ever” is that competing with Google in search is expensive, Google is a moving target, and other types of disruption will influence what happens between Google and Facebook in search. You should read the original write up to get the full freight of meaning.
The Game in the Game
My view of this situation is quite different. Remember. I am not picking sides. The Gold team and the Blue team are pursuing their respective goals. I am floating in the polluted waters of a mine run off filled pond in rural Kentucky. Furthermore, I am an addled goose. If those caveats don’t help you grasp the flaws in my vision, you need to shift to TMZ.com-type write ups from azure chip consultants.
First, Google has created its own problem. The fact that Facebook looks like the cause is incorrect. Google is anchored in brute force solutions, and Facebook operates on a membership basis. Country club members put up with craziness from management in order to golf, have a place to park fancy cars, and eat dinner with people who are members. Google indexes everything and Facebook, like it or not, operates on a very different premise. Google’s massive power is a bit like the old Soviet May Day celebration. Facebook is like hanging out in the student union.
Second, search is no longer where the action is. I know that I have invested considerable effort in search, but like this blog, the world has moved “beyond search”. Google is the past, rooted firmly in AltaVista.com-type methods. Facebook is, like it or not, the future of information access: gated, incomplete, social, and essentially cut loose from precision and recall unless intermediated through “friends”. Google’s original algorithm did not need humans. Google just wanted whatever its system identified as a “signal.” Sure, humans were prime movers, but after a while, the clicks and the links became more important than who. At Facebook, the “who” thing is the focal point. With 20 percent of Facebook’s staff listing Google on their résumé, those folks know what is good and bad about the GOOG’s methods.
Third, both Facebook and Google have significant challenges ahead. For Google, the company has to cope with what I call the “tail light” problem. What this means is that Google does not have a satisfactory method in place to close the gap or pass Apple, Amazon, eBay/PayPal, or Facebook in the consumer space. In the enterprise, Google is looking at tail lights on the IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle truck trailers. For Facebook, the company seems to be on a collision course with management, design and usability, performance, and legal issues related to personal information. Facebook looks robust and the team with momentum, but these challenges are significant and not quickly or easily solved.
We have, therefore, the game—that is, the battle between Google and Facebook—and we have the game within the game—that is, the different viewpoints of what is happening on the field.
Both are interesting. What I find fascinating is that neither the fans nor the teams are going to be able to control what happens. Momentum, luck, or an accident is likely to determine the outcome. Great fun as the global economy wobbles, unemployment creeps upward, and countries struggle to remain nation states. Panem et circenses.
Stephen E Arnold, June 5, 2011