Facebook=Apple, Google=Microsoft

And no, by the title on this post I don’t mean that Facebook is good and Google is bad (please see my previous post), or that Facebook is well-designed and Google is bloated and buggy. Instead, I’m thinking about a line in Erick Schonfeld’s post at TechCrunch about the whole Google Social-Facebook thing (incidentally, an interesting idea to have Erick write a post disagreeing with the one that Mike Arrington wrote). In his post, Erick says that the best approach for Facebook may be to join the Google movement, or:

“it risks becoming the Apple of the social networking world (the old Apple of the 1980s, which always offered a nicer, more controlled experience than Windows, but ceded application momentum.”

Obviously, no such comparison is going to be 100-per-cent accurate, but I think there is something to Erick’s analogy. Apple in the 1980s was a much better experience in almost every way but one — namely, it had a small market share and because it was a proprietary platform it required developers to do more work. By developing for Windows they could have their software run on 100 times as many computers and reach that many more people, for the same effort.

It’s true that Apple has been successful in all kinds of ways, with its iPods and Macbooks and so on. But I would argue it has done so despite being a closed system (i.e., proprietary hardware and software joined together) rather than because of it. In a similar way, Facebook has become successful by controlling all aspects of the service — in other words, both the online equivalent of hardware (design) and software (features).

By contrast, Google doesn’t really have a horse in this particular race — unless you include Orkut, which I don’t — in the same sense that Microsoft didn’t make hardware. So Google can concentrate on the software that underpins the social-networking phenomenon, making it easy for other companies’ apps to work together. Of course, as Dare Obasanjo points out, there are negatives to being Microsoft as well.

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