THE BLOG

Google, Twitter, and Facebook Have Three Ways to Skin a Cat

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As much as it pains me to use the phrase "there's more than one way to skin a cat," the avalanche of news and rumors surrounding Twitter, Facebook and Google all give truth to the old adage.

The biggest news over the past week is that Bing and Google have struck deals to add Twitter to search results with a more concerted and prominent placement. This means a separate page of results for now, but in all likelihood (just as with video and news results) certain tweets will show prominently in the main "blended" search result pages.
Facebook apparently is also working to have updates (but not responses) treated the same way. Currently most Facebook users have privacy settings that preclude this from happening but fan pages for brands don't.

This trails Facebook's upgrade of their own search tool (which has been a mixed success), integrating Bing results with other onsite search results. Twitter of course integrated search earlier this year and has made the real time nature of its results a major topic of conversation, despite the fact that those results are solely limited to Twitter's own platform.

Facebook and Google are also going after music fans -- Google by serving up songs and song content like lyrics in unified results, and Facebook by adding tunes to the gifts that people can buy and send to each other's pages.

So will people turn to Google first to find music? Twitter to search? Facebook to do both? What makes these developments so interesting, is how different each of these platforms are.

Google's biggest advantage is that they have tons of cash and no end to the money train in sight thanks to their successful search ad business built on the back of a sophisticated search algorithm that has conquered nearly 80% of the search market. Anyone who has tried to search on Facebook knows how clunky their in-site search tool is even with recent enhancements, and the same holds true for Twitter.

Twitter's advantage lies in its simplicity -- the basic and open nature of its platform allows third parties to build all kinds of tools on top of their raw feed for a variety of uses. On the other hand the Twitter folks have yet to come up with a steady income stream and the site is prone to spam.

Facebook's advantage is its huge and growing user base of 300 million plus people. While that's less than Google, the level of engagement can be far higher with some folks leaving it on in the background all day and dipping in and out or playing games like Farmville. However, where Twitter is all about openness Facebook's culture is still built around closed networks of friends who don't necessary share updates and info with the outside world, and don't care to. Brands however love Facebook's fan pages for their mixture of control and interaction.

For all their differences the functionality of these sites - led by search - are bringing them closer together, jostling in collaboration and competition. The next few years will tell us if Facebook, which has embraced the mantra of constant improvement and change, can evolve into the financial and cultural powerhouse that Google is. We will also learn whether or not Google has become too big to continue to innovate and pioneer new ways of gathering and using information. Finally we'll know if Twitter can mature into a full-fledged part of people's lives like Google and Facebook have.

The very different challenges and attributes of each company means that the outcome is far from determined in search, music, and the many other ways each organization will overlap functionally. It's a case of parallel evolution -- social media style.