Why Google Isn't Scared of Facebook's Graph Search

Facebook may have just released a major search product that many are saying "declares war" on Google, but Google CEO Larry Page doesn't sound all that worried about the new competition. Because who said Facebook and Google couldn't get along?

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Facebook may have just released a major search product that many are saying "declares war" on Google or may at least put the social network "on a collision course" with the search giant, but Google CEO Larry Page doesn't sound all that worried about the new competition. Because who said Facebook and Google couldn't get along someday? In an interview for the new issue of Wired published just two days after Facebook's Graph Search came out to so-so reviews, Page tells Steve Levy that Facebook is "doing a really bad job on their products." But before you laugh off that swipe — Google Buzz flopped, Google killed Reader, and Google+ has a loyal but relatively small user base — Page wants to remind everyone that Facebook isn't direct competition, that these two Silicon Valley giants are too big for either to fail. "We're actually doing something different," Page tells Levy. "I think it's outrageous to say that there's only space for one company in these areas."

That's not to say Page isn't making Google go social, or that Facebook isn't in his rearview mirror. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long talked about the rise of social search, and Page has taken a vested interest of late in getting people to use Google+ — even if they don't want to. In an attempt to conquer the space, direct orders from Page forcefully integrated Google's social network into its main search results... and pretty much everywhere else its products touch. If it were up to Larry Page, Google would require a Google+ account just to read reviews. His evaluation of Google+ as it stands? "I'm very happy with how it has gone. We're working on a lot of really cool stuff. A lot of it has been copied by our competitors, so I think we're doing a good job."

Critics might beg to differ — Google+ is often referred to as a lesser "Facebook copycat" from the search king — but critics are now comparing Facebook's search product (which was announced before the Wired interview with Page was conducted) to Google's main offering. And from a product standpoint, Facebook may have yet to train its users to give Graph Search what it needs to be great. Furthermore, business analysts seem to agree that Facebook's social recommendation engine won't hurt Google's core business ... in the near future. But Zuckerberg said at Tuesday's announcement that Facebook wasn't focused on the business side of Graph Search just now — even if it does offer huge advertising potential. At the same time, Graph Search could take away eyeballs (and ad dollars) from Google. If Facebook, with its friend-powered engine, ends up giving "better" results than Google for recommendations on restaurants, travel, books, music, and movies — a domination Google is still fighting anti-trust charges over — then why end up Googling at all?

Well, even Page might think Facebook and Google can complement each other — sort of. To wit, he asked Levy: "For us to succeed, is it necessary for some other company to fail? No." As Zuckerberg said on Tuesday, "our mission is to make the world more open" by giving people tools to connect. And Google's stated mission "is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Are those so similar that they can't get along? After all, that could be the future of search: You go to Facebook to see what your friends and the people you trust have to say, and then you head to Google for the facts. Of course, neither Facebook or Google wants the future that way, exactly: Facebook has actually teamed up with Microsoft to complement Graph Search, sending people to Bing for those fact-finding, Google-style queries; Google, meanwhile, as Google+ as its social-search equivalent of Graph Searching. And users don't really want to go to so many different places for basic information that's built to make their lives easier. Part of the reason people have stuck with Google, despite all of its privacy and anti-trust issues, is that the company's ultimately done a really good job on their products — GMail, Google Drive, Reader, and their fellow "apps" have become an integral part of our Internet lives. Facebook wants that role, and if social search ends up working — well, then why not chat on Facebook, email (and make phone calls) with Messenger, sext with Poke, and read your news via the News Feed?

Of course, Page said all this stuff weeks ago. And who knows how Graph Search is going over at Google headquarters. Maybe he just he meant a different product that was so... bad. Or maybe he really just doesn't get Poke? Either way, Larry Page knew this fight was coming. The whole world did.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.