There has been a lot of recent discussion around Facebook’s traction with respect to Google. Back in September, comScore announced that according to their panel-driven data, total time spent on Facebook properties actually surpassed the total time spent across Google properties (including YouTube, Gmail and Google search). Stan Schroeder from Mashable speculated that”it’s a worrying stat for Google. . .without a large social networking property Google will have a hard time snatching users’ time from Facebook’s hands.”
Arguing against the ubiquity of Facebook would be a pretty stupid endeavor. However, I do think that comparing aggregate time-on-page does tend to oversimplify the reality of the situation (although said oversimplification does clearly have some significant PR benefits, as the traction of the Comtex announcement indicates). The reality of the situation is that even if the metric is accurate (and I think it’s questionable to fully trust the accuracy of one source) Google still accounts for significantly more unique visitors monthly according to the same source, which makes sense when you consider the typical use case on each of these properties.
For me, the metric says more about the changing nature of the Web than it does about competition between Facebook and Google because they facilitate fundamentally different experiences from one another. To use a gross oversimplification myself, I would say that Facebook fulfills people’s need for recreation while Google fulfills a far more functional need. Facebook has simultaneously benefited from and contributed to the Web’s evolution, from a functional medium into one that is more multi-dimensional.
Although Facebook has most likely eaten into the hours users once spent on Google, listlessly browsing the Web for something about their favorite celebrity or sports team, the likelihood that Facebook has eaten into the more functional, revenue-generating queries on Google is slim. What’s more likely is that Facebook’s growth has come at the expense of other online leisure activities (i.e. e-mail, aimless browsing, chat) during work hours and quite possibly offline leisure activities (i.e. talking on the phone, chatting) during non-work hours. It is worth mentioning that Facebook has quite possibly eaten into the time spent on one of Google’s most valued properties, YouTube based on this line of reasoning.
All that being said, the prophecies of Facebook eating significantly into the more utilitarian applications currently associated with Google are overblown in my opinion. I have yet to see a corporate Facebook page that I took seriously and my attempts to ask questions and find any real information on Facebook have met with underwhelming results compared to Google. I do think that Facebook has always been and will continue to be a place where people go to flirt, play FarmVille and look at pictures and Google will continue to be the place people go when they need real life questions answered.
That is not to say that Facebook won’t have an impact. In fact, Facebook’s archival of social data will likely have a profound impact on the way search results are displayed as they provide their social data to the engines. What I have skepticism in is the notion that Facebook will significantly challenge any of the entrenched entities in this domain.