I'm always surprised when there's a great deal of news buzz over something everyone knew was going to happen. When I lived in Milwaukee, we'd joke about the first snowfall of the year and the sorry assignment given the lowliest reporter to stand on a giant pile of municipal salt to report on the efforts to clean the streets. We all know it snowed, we can see the snowplows–what's newsworthy about this, exactly?
That's the way I felt reading all the headlines about comScore's report that time spent with Facebook exceeded Google in August. Any informed person knew the trends and expected this to happen, so whether Google or Facebook is No. 1 is less interesting to me than what the trend really means. This week's news is not as immediately dire for Google nor as immediately beneficial for Facebook as the headlines would imply. That said, the trends do highlight the fact that Facebook has succeeded where Google has not in creating a single, cohesive experience that gives today's consumers what they want.
When people hear the Google name, the first thing that comes to mind is the search engine which, of course, is not a place where people spend a lot of time–users search and leave quickly. But Google has many popular "sticky" sites, such as YouTube and Gmail, and despite the news, these sites are not losing attention. In fact, Google isn't shrinking while Facebook is growing, it's just that Google isn't growing as fast as Facebook.
But there can be no mistaking that consumers are getting something from Facebook that they cannot get from Google, and this means Facebook is poised to continue to grow compared to Google. The difference between the two companies is that Facebook has a unified offering that people find compelling, while Google has a collection of sites that people find very useful–Google search, Gmail, YouTube, Google News and the other Google destinations are largely separate consumer experiences. This is a problem, and the solution may be Google Me, the rumored and expected social offering from Google.
While Google has said little about its upcoming social product, I expect it will bring an organized social strategy to the center of the Google consumer experience. Google's social media offerings have thus far suffered from the same problem as their other sites–they've been individual and isolated offerings. Services such as Dodgeball, Orkut, YouTube and Google Buzz haven't overlapped to create a whole social offering, which is how Facebook has succeeded.
This week's news from comScore doesn't change the game, but the evolving news over the last two years has significant implications. Facebook commands more attention and consumer time, and that puts it in a powerful position with marketers who want to reach those consumers. This isn't a crisis for Google because it still has considerable engagement and terrific marketing offerings such as AdWords. The fact that people will continue to search, that marketers can reach those people at the exact moment they have a need, and that Google's search engine is by far the predominant player in the search space in the US means that marketing dollars will continue to flow to Google. comScore's data won't change that.
But that doesn't mean that there isn't pressure on Google. It ruled the Web 1.0 era by solving people's greatest need–the Internet was a confusing, large and disorganized place, and Google was the conduit that made the Web more usable. But consumers of the Web 2.0 era have a different need, and Google is for the most part not satisfying that. Google has an opportunity to leverage its strong brand and the 39.8 billion minutes people spend on Google properties each month to create what they have not yet created: a single, cohesive place to engage, share, play, communicate and learn. If it does, Google could create a serious competitive offering to Facebook and could claim more of those precious consumer minutes.