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Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Google & Facebook: If You're So Smart, Work It Out!

Last week, things boiled over between Google and Facebook over data sharing. This week, the CEOs from both companies took the stage at Web 2.0 Summit. Despite the obvious conflict, neither CEO would just clearly say what they wanted from the other. It’s a pity two innovative, groundbreaking companies can’t show any innovation when it comes to conflict resolution.

It’s not that the moderators John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly didn’t try to get straight answers from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. They did. Repeatedly. It’s just that neither CEO showed any interest in giving real answers. That’s pretty odd given that both CEOs like to tout how their companies are all about “openness.”

Dream Interviews

After watching both CEOs being interviewed on stage, I’ve got two dream scenarios that I’d like to see happen in the future.

In one, both appear together. Someone — anyone — serves as their conflict resolution counselor. Public debate, public negotiation, anything might be better than 30 minutes of answers that often aren’t answers.

Alternatively, I want a two hour long interview. Take the first hour for everyone to get comfortable, go through a range of topics. Then get into the tough issues after that, and don’t let go. Ask away, without the tick-tock that you’ve got to move on to other questions, because there’s a lot you want to cover for the audience and only little time to do it.

Take that entire second hour and, like in a classic BBC interview conducted by Jeremy Paxman, “be frightfully rude” and keep asking the same question over-and-over again:

To be fair, despite asking 12 to 14 times (depending on how you count), Paxman never got an answer. I doubt Facebook’s or Google’s CEO would crack in “A Few Good Men” style and start screaming “You’re goddamn right we don’t want to give them the data/work with them.”

Why Not Dream?

Still, a boy can dream.

A boy can especially dream when he’s looking at the leaders of two companies that position themselves as being full of dreamers, of wanting to do good for the web, of wanting to make products that people love, of having companies that people love.

Hey, if there’s so much love going around, then kiss and make up.

Dear Google, Tell Me Honestly….

From Schmidt, I don’t want to hear that the world is somehow just imagining that there’s a competition between Google and Facebook. There is.

There’s competition for talent, clearly. There’s competition in Google trying to build its own social products — not social components to existing ones but standalone product such as Google Buzz or Google Latitude or yesterday’s Google Hotpot.

(Oddly the competition on the ad front is more a spectre, at the moment, in my view. Advertisers I talk with repeatedly say they buy from both Google and Facebook. They want them both, and they find both complementary).

I especially want to know publicly, in detail, why Google can’t use Facebook Connect or Facebook’s Open Graph to get data. Battelle asked about this in his interview, and Schmidt dodged it. I’ve asked Schmidt twice now myself and haven’t gotten a clear answer.

First I was told “read the terms.” So I did. Yesterday in a press conference after Schmidt’s interview, I asked about something in those terms — and was told I read the wrong ones.

Enough with the guessing games. Schmidt clearly knows what he doesn’t like about the terms. Google’s got a blog. Lay out the case about why exactly Facebook’s terms don’t work for Google, so that we can all know and better understand the objections.

Dear Facebook, Tell Me Honestly….

From Zuckerberg — or anyone else at Facebook for that matter — I absolutely do not want to hear again that while it is OK to export email addresses from an email system, social networks are somehow “special” where this isn’t allowed.

If people on Facebook have shared their email addresses with me — as they have — then I want the ability to take them out using Facebook’s own export tool, no ifs, ands or buts. It was uncomfortable watching Zuckerberg repeatedly dodge this basic, simple question when both Battelle and O’Reilly pressed on it.

It makes no sense. Facebook currently allows anyone to export the email addresses of their friends through the third parties of Yahoo and Microsoft. But if you want to download those emails into a file directly from Facebook, Facebook’s new export tool doesn’t support that. Crazy.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I heard from Zuckerberg yesterday was the idea that Facebook might work with Google, but it wants to understand how Google would give back to Facebook. Finally, I felt a pang of sympathy for Facebook, which has otherwised seemed to be a company that says “open” but acts awfully closed and protective in many ways.

Facebook wants something back from Google, and fair enough. That’s a heck of a lot better than lame excuses about how Facebook can’t provide social data to Google because it’s not as innovative as Bing. What exactly does Facebook want? What’s Google objecting to? Could we have some details?

Reality Check Meet The New Reality

I’m not naive. We’re talking about multi-billion dollar businesses here. They have obvious competitive concerns. They’ll act in their own self-interests. They’ll hold cards close to their chests, avoid giving away what they can and talk privately as it suits.

Nevertheless, these are also pioneering companies that both preach to the “old” industries they are disrupting about how those industries need to adapt and change to a new world order. How odd, then, to have their leaders acting just like typical corporate CEOs when it comes to a dispute.

Google is the most powerful search company on earth and yet can’t find an accommodation with Facebook. Facebook is the most powerful social company on earth and yet is downright anti-social to Google.

Find the common ground.

More Info

Earlier, I made a remark about 30 minutes of non-answers. That was an exaggeration. On many of the tough questions, there was dodging. Still, both interviews were also revealing and interesting. Do watch them.

I also can’t stress enough how my frustration with some of the answers isn’t a reflection on the questioning by either Battelle or O’Reilly. They tried. They really did, and they pushed. But as I said, when you’ve a limited amount of time and a wide range of topics, you’ve got to move on. I’ve been in the situation myself with interviews. That’s how it goes.

The video of Schmidt’s interview from Web 2.0 can be viewed below:

My live blogging, which isn’t as complete or accurate as the video (hey, it’s live blogging), can be found here.

The video of Zuckerberg’s interview isn’t up yet, but you can watch for it here. My live blogging of it is here.

As for the data dispute, the stories below have more background about that:


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