Friend or foe?
Facebook vs. Google: taking sides on which gargantuan Internet corporation is more liked
Curiously, people seem to think so.
This came up in conversation with some 20-somethings a few weeks ago. “Facebook is a horrible company’’ is a pretty fair re-creation of their comments. “They are always trying to mine your personal information and sell you ads.’’ Google, conversely, found much favor: “Google creates products that make our lives easier. They can be counted upon to do the right thing.’’
These prejudices exist in the real world. Earlier this year, Google snagged the No. 2 spot, after Apple, on Fortune magazine’s list of most admired US companies. Google placed first in the Reputation Institute’s annual ranking of the 100 most admired companies worldwide.
By contrast, hating Facebook is so de rigueur that the social networking behemoth hosts four “I Hate Facebook’’ sites under its super-wide umbrella. At least they have a sense of humor.
Color me flapdoodled. I use both Facebook and Google a lot. It never occurred to me that they might be anything other than gargantuan, transnational corporations seeking to profit from their relationships with their customers. Are they somehow different from
“I’ve heard people say Google is good and Facebook is bad,’’ said longtime Silicon Valley venture capitalist Stewart Alsop, “although I don’t agree with the premise. These things work in cycles,’’ he continued. “
“Google grew up and matured much faster into being evil, and now they are ‘good’ because they are bumbling around and don’t know what they are doing.’’
For certain people, Google will always be the “do no evil’’ company founded by graduates of touchy-feely Montessori schools, the company that serves hot coconut-masala muesli in the cafeteria. Google made a show of standing up to the Chinese autocrats rather than submit to Beijing’s censorship.
But there is, of course, another Google. That would be the quasi monopolist owner of Google AdSense that dictates terms to websites it does business with. Or the Google excoriated on Capitol Hill last week for locking competitors like Yelp and
Why is Facebook evil? Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has his Vader-like aspects, contrasting with the smiley-faced Eric Schmidt whom the take-no-prisoners Google founders drafted to front their enterprise. Yes, Facebook plumbs your stated interests and try to sell you stuff; I used to get ads for sculling/yoga camps, which I found flattering. But Google has been doing that for years via your searches, e-mail, and browser use.
Yes, Facebook loves to shove oddball product changes (e.g., the “ticker’’) down users’ throats every few months. What of it? Here’s a free service that lets you keep in touch with people you like, ignore people you can’t stand, and watch videos and hear music to boot. Facebook reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous comment about the weather: Everyone complains about it, but no one does anything about it.
Now they have a chance. I see that Diaspora, the wannabe Facebook killer, has just invited me to join. The last time I e-mailed them, they replied four weeks later. (By contrast, Facebook called me almost immediately to say they had no interest in commenting on this column.) I’ll pass.
Google has been flogging its own Facebook-killing Google+ app since June, so far to little avail. My Facebook friends take a peek at the new kid on the social media block then return, slouch-shouldered and resigned, to Zucker-land. VC guy Alsop signed up for Google+, but says he hasn’t visited the site in a month. “I haven’t missed it,’’ he says. “There’s nothing social there, no sense of friendship. Facebook has been enhancing all the things that make it social, and I find myself ever more bound to them.’’
Me too, sort of. If I can just figure out the ticker.
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is email@example.com.