Facebook and Google Make  Moves for Battle Towards  Online Supremacy

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. It is the time when Facebook and Google are planting seeds and standing their ground. It is the season of power playing, the season of decision making, the season of information collection.

It is yet another start of a long, hard­fought battle between the two.

Facebook Fears No One

On April 12, 2012, Facebook made waves in the tech industry by purchasing Instagram for $1US billion.

The widely popular photo-sharing app that now runs on Android­-powered smartphones was valued at $500US million prior to its purchase but nobody seems to be worried that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has overestimated its market price. Instagram’s ability to seamlessly edit the user’s captured photos on the fly using its 16 available filters allows for attractive retouching of any image without compromising its resolution and quality.

Aside from its features, what made Instagram achieve its cult­status in such a short time is the way it spread to other users primarily through word of mouth. With minimal adverts and promotions, Instagram (developed and founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger) let its features speak for themselves, which helped the company grow as one of the best photo sharing apps online and win accolades from prestigious award­giving bodies. Fast Company compiled a list of the 100 most creative business people in 2011 and ranked Systrom at 66th, while both Systrom and Krieger were acknowledged by Inc.com as two of the 30 fastest rising entrepreneurs under 30 years of age.

The acquisition made sense, despite the overspending on the part of Facebook, in two ways.

First, it helps strengthen Facebook’s already robust photo sharing program highlighted by its facial recognition feature. Although Zuckerburg insists that Instagram will remain an independent entity separate from Facebook, the purchase allows him and his team to take the Instagram features and incorporate them in their social networking platform.

Second and more importantly, Facebook would get their hands on Instagram’s 30 million profiles created since October of 2010, in addition to its already massive and 800 million users. This could mean more information to extract by Facebook, allowing them to possibly bombard the users with ads for the purpose of hiking up their revenues.

The possibility of the above happening has left a sour taste on Instagram users who felt that the acquisition is another way of destroying the pure and unadulterated user­based sharing experience. A public backlash resulted days after the acquisition as some rallied to delete their Instagram account. Amidst the rising privacy and quality concerns, PCWorld even supplied a guide on how users can safely migrate their images from Instagram servers onto their local drives.

However, looking at the bigger picture, the deal was done by Facebook to mainly fortify its place in the online world and monopolize the market. Instagram had a database of users of which most had no Facebook accounts, while its smooth interface and editing features were in contrast against the social networking site’s deficient image editing capabilities. What better way for Facebook to improve their services by purchasing a possible competitor?

On the part of Instagram, although some may scream “sellout” at this once proud community­based photo sharing program, money amounting to $1US billion not only talks but also cleans your laundry, does your dishes, and put food on your table – for a lifetime. Facebook offered a reasonable deal that made Systrom and Krieger billionaires overnight. If anything, entrepreneurs should be inspired with both men’s blueprint to success.

Getting Giddy In Google land

Google+, the social networking site launched by search engine empire Google in early 2011, has yet to achieve something groundbreaking to rival Facebook. So far, Google+ has been taking baby steps on its way to improving usability and functions – outside Circles (users organize people in their list by assigning them in a particular circle) and Hangouts (users invite people from their different circles to a group video chat), both of which were part of the original features when the site was made available in public, nothing much has happened.

The same week Instagram was acquired by Facebook, however, Google+ may have done its first major on­page revamp. Though the changes pale in comparison to Facebook’s savvy business maneuver, Google has stepped up to the plate by providing a fresher perspective to their product that may attract more people who once counted Google+ out to register for a profile.

Outside from improvements on that rehash featured in other social media sites (the profile cover page and improved hashtag functionality copped from Facebook and Twitter, respectively), Google harks back to their bread and butter by keeping the clutter minimized and simplifying the user home page.

The puzzling white space on the right side of the timeline, which had been a source of ridicule to those who weren’t happy with the current updates, is apparently the area where the chat boxes appear once you talk to your friends. Once you visit the page more often and use its chat function, it will soon make sense from a design perspective – unlike Facebook, Google+ chat boxes do not block any of the page elements, making for a cozier experience connecting with friends.

Overall, the updates are a step towards the right direction for a company who had once already squandered an opportunity to build a social networking site in Orkut back in 2004. With its recent updates, Google+ seems to have captured the feel of what it takes to become a competent alternative to Facebook.

What Are The Implications?

Facebook and Google are not direct competitors in terms of where both companies collect their revenue. However, their interests do intersect in a way, which is to hold the greatest stake in the online market. The social networking and search engine giants are slowly allocating and distributing their resources on decisions that make for sound business moves.

The Instagram acquisition is big for Facebook not only for loading up its photo sharing feature with even more capabilities, but they also make a statement that if they want something, they can definitely buy it.

On the side of Google+, it would be a mistake to completely shun its overdue and relatively insufficient improvements to Google+, which was looking like a lame duck when Pinterest caught lightning in a jar and usurped Google’s social networking site as the next big thing in social media early of 2012. However, these tiny changes may be the calm before the storm. Who knows what Google has in store for us these coming weeks and months on Google+?

However, the bigger question remains to be asked: when will both companies finally and publicly declare war against each other?

The plot thickens.

Who do you think will end up on top – Facebook or Google?