Why Facebook and Google+ are headed in opposite directions

Facebook is spinning out new products while Google is integrating. But these opposite directions are leading to the same place.

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That's why Google recently killed off Latitude and the Android Gallery app in favor of Google+ or Google+-centric alternatives. It's why they built Zagat into Google+ and aggressively integrated Google+ with Gmail and YouTube.

It appears to be all about making all "signals" or points of user data available to any Google product in order to improve that product in ways that other companies cannot.

Zeroing in on advertising, which is after all the main business of both Facebook and Google, the outcomes of each company are more or less the same place. Each company is trying to attract the maximum number of eyeballs and serve up extremely relevant, highly personalized ads on both desktop and mobile.

In order to be all things to all people, each needs lots of services, products and apps, but all tied together with each company's social signals and identity.

To achieve this, Facebook needs a lot more products and a lot more "artificial intelligence," which are initiatives the company has explicitly said they'll take.

Google needs to take the many products it's already got and make them a lot more connected to its social and identity information.

So although each company appears to be headed in the opposite direction, they're really competing for the same destination: To add social intelligence to everything you do, plus add identity to everything you do so they know who they're servicing up ads to, while also enabling purchases.

Some day, Facebook might need to stop selling ads on the Facebook.com site altogether in order to compete against Google's ad-free social network. Sure, they'll still harvest social signals from the site, but they'll need a lot more apps for displaying advertising.

The question for Facebook is: Can it launch those apps and get people to use them fast enough to keep users and advertisers from wandering off to the next shiny new thing?

And the question for Google is: Can it integrate its social and identity layers to existing products without freaking people out and making them feel coerced and abused?

So far, Google is doing much better than Facebook, with far more users overall (Search, Google+, YouTube, Gmail and other services combined) and also a social network that's growing fast. Google is also way ahead in the algorithm and "artificial intelligence" department, and in the mobile advertising business.

Still, don't count out Facebook yet. It's still got the biggest social network, and its strategy of building or acquiring many new apps is the right one.

Facebook and Google are headed in opposite directions to arrive at the same destination. Whether either company can get there is anybody's guess.

This article, "Why Facebook and Google+ Are Headed in Opposite Directions," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him on Google+. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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