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Facebook Will Thwart Google, Says Ex GooglerFacebook Will Thwart Google, Says Ex GooglerDoes Google have any chance at all of competing with arch-rival Facebook? Not really,
former Google bigwig Paul
Buchheit
says. Buchheit tells us his old company will probably find
it easier to land on the moon.

 

It’s an important issue. If Google can’t mount a viable challenge to
Facebook, it will make the social network look all the more unstoppable to
competitors and frustrated users alike. A series of privacy scandals in 2010
could not keep Facebook from reaching 500 million users, a huge
milestone.

 

Having worked for both companies, Buchheit is in a good position to evaluate
the “war” between the two companies over the social
networking space
. The engineer was employee number 23 at Google,
where he invented Gmail and coined the slogan “Don’t be evil.” He left to create
social aggregator FriendFeed, which he soon sold to Facebook for $50 million. He
then left Facebook in November for a tech
incubator
.

 

Facebook Will Thwart Google, Says Ex GooglerSince then, Buchheit seems to speak more freely online. He has highlighted stories about
Google’s problems competing with Facebook, including a claim that the company
suffered from internal “disorganization and… teams working parallel or in
conflict.” He also wrote twice about how he thinks Google’s ChromeOS is doomed.

 

Noticing this new frankness, we emailed Buchheit for more thoughts. He didn’t
tone down his criticism of Google one bit: “As for social, I expect that Google
will find greater success with their self-driving car and moon landing
initiatives. I think it’s worth noting that the two most successful Facebook
competitors, Twitter and Foursquare, were both started by people who were
relatively unsuccessful at Google.”

 

Here are a few of the questions we asked Buchheit and what he said in
return.

 

Would it be erroneous to detect a bit of pessimism on your part about
some of Google’s big initiatives? Do you still think Google is innovating, on
balance?

 

I’m actually rather optimistic about Google overall. The inevitable doom of
ChromeOS is due in part to the huge success of Android. As for social, I expect
that Google will find greater success with their self-driving car and moon
landing initiatives. I think it’s worth noting that the two most successful
Facebook competitors, Twitter and Foursquare, were both started by people who
were relatively unsuccessful at Google.

 

Good point on Android. You do sound a whole lot less optimistic about
social. Why doesn’t social mesh with where Google is strong, i.e. in basic
engineering skills?

 

Well, that’s a complex question, but the short summary is:

 

— Google’s strength is in building large scale computer systems like BigTable
[definition], and they reflexively try to apply that to
all problems (if all you have is a hammer…)
— Facebook is also very good at
what they do (unlike MySpace)
— The network effects in social are very
substantial

 

The only good strategy I can see for Google is to create something
fundamentally different from Facebook (like Twitter or Foursquare were), but
Google probably doesn’t have the right people doing that because of this problem.

 

[Buchheit is referring to the experience of Dennis Crowley, who sold his
“check in” service Dodgeball to Google in 2005 and left unhappily two years later, citing a lack of support. He then
started a virtually identical service called Foursquare, now valued north of $90 million
and
conquering a market Google considers a top priority.]

 

Facebook is indeed fearsome. But why would a strength and interest in
building large-scale systems keep Google from building, say, a Facebook
competitor? Bureaucracy? Or maybe you also mean not willing to jump into things
that seem “too small,” kind of a classic big company issue when it comes to
emerging markets/tech?

 

It’s a question of which skills are most highly regarded. Everyone has
different strengths, and the people who are going to build the next Twitter
aren’t necessarily going to build the next BigTable as well. A culture that has
been very successful with one strength can have difficultly recognizing
others.

 

[Photo of Buchheit via Robert Scoble/Flickr]

 

Send an email to Ryan Tate, the author of this post, at ryan@gawker.com

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