Google vs. Facebook: Why I’m Rooting for the Kid

November 1, 2007, 3:09 AM UTC

By Josh Quittner

I’m rooting for the kid.

It’s not an easy decision—it never makes sense to be on the other side of Google (GOOG), and I am all for open standards. But on this one, I can’t help myself, I am rooting for the kid.

Imagine starting a business that, within 18 months, goes from nothing to 50 million members. You do everything right. You take a bit of seed capital and you make all the correct decisions, you play a scratch game, you innovate, you make a big bet, and bam! You create a product that’s so compelling, you make a market where none existed.

And now imagine that a far bigger company—no, the fifth biggest company in the U.S.!—comes along and simply copies your idea. It bigfoots you and says, you know that beautiful thing you figured out? Well we’re going to do it, too. And good luck competing with us because we’re going to take your great idea, and give it away for free to our market, which happens to be twice as large as yours before we even get started here.

In so doing, it (seemingly) neutralizes you, robs you of all the value you created.

How can you NOT root for the kid on this one?

A lot of this reminds me of the Browser Wars, when Microsoft took a similar tactic with Netscape. (“You know that cool browser you created? You know how your business model hinges on selling it to people? Well we’re copying it and giving it away for free.”) Of course, Microsoft also made the mistake of tying its browser to its operating system, which cost it billions. No one can scream “monopoly!” here.

So I’m rooting for the kid. I don’t care that, in this case, ironically, he has Microsoft (MSFT) in his corner. He is still the underdog.

I hope Dave Winer is right and that tech companies who promulgate standards to undermine other tech companies usually fail. I don’t believe him in this case. The “standard” that Google is foisting on its partners is open. It’s HTML and Javascript. Facebook has the proprietary code here.

But still I am rooting for the kid. He has momentum on his side—50 million people, and so far, Google’s ploy isn’t a good reason for any of them to leave. And that means the developers will stay. I am hoping that come next Tuesday, when he lets Madison Avenue see what Facebook can do with social ads, he’ll change the game yet again. God this is fun. That’s why I’m rooting for the kid.