Google and Facebook: Constant Innovation

When you have two multi-billion dollar companies trying to grab the attention of internet users, things are bound to become acrimonious. It is no secret that Facebook is increasingly getting onto Google’s nerves. Like Wilson Rothman’s article “Facebook is the New Google”, these two titans are being compared frequently.

Why are these two companies the biggest players on the World Wide Web today? For all their differences and rivalries, Facebook and Google have one thing in common – constant innovation.

On “Evolution or Revolution: Where is Your Business Headed” the blog addressed the importance of change and  innovation. No company highlights innovation and constant change as well as Facebook and Google.

Google Google’s acquisitions

“…Mayer said that Google currently averages out at one acquisition per week… a few large, strategic acquisitions will be in the near future.”Interview of Marissa Mayer

Since Google itself wouldn’t tell us directly what we wanted to know, we used Google to, um, Google our query and ended up on this page on Wikipedia. We knew Google had been on an acquisition spree recently, but the number of acquisitions in 2010 surprised us. There are Twenty Five acquisitions, in one year alone. Other sources pin the number even higher… at forty!

Ok, so you would argue that a big company buying out smaller companies isn’t a big deal, and definitely not any indication of innovation.  However, it is interesting to see the cast of portfolio that these companies cover. There are companies for social gaming, travel, desktop environment, developer tools, photo editing and others.

All this points to one direction: Google is evolving. Google had long ago realized that providing one single utility (in its case, search) was not enough. So it started expanding into other domains. Today, its portfolio boasts of email, online documents, photo editing, a video site, mobile as well as desktop OS, among others. It is already planning to expand into Social Media (Wave and Buzz were indeed steps in that direction, albeit failed ones).

And Facebook?

Facebook, when it started out as thefacebook.com, was meant only for students from Zuckenberg’s own university. He then expanded to students of other universities. Today, it is used by more than 500 million users. How did it get there?

When it started out, Facebook had to contend with the likes of Myspace, Friendster and then Google’s Orkut along the way. It did not only surpass them, but forced both of these sites to undergo radical changes just to compete in the Social Media space.

What is Facebook’s secret? Like Google, the answer is constant change and innovation. Facebook didn’t really expand into other markets as obviously as Google did. But it slowly started offering more and more features to users. Take “NOTES”, for example. Notes, combined with the ability to post long status messages has meant that personal blogs, which were once all the rage, are today a niche category. Games on Facebook have been the bane of many standalone gaming sites.

So even though at a glance it doesn’t seem as if Facebook is expanding, it has been doing so all along.

The secrets, revealed

It takes only a moment’s thought to figure out why these two companies are so successful. We can summarize the secrets in three words:

Innovation. Change. Risks.

On “Four Reasons Google Is Still Awesome” Paul Buccheit, the developer of Gmail listed his top reasons for why Google is still ‘awesome’, his number one reason is that the company is not afraid to take risks. What else could explain the numerous Google Labs projects and the countless acquisitions.

“They take big risks… If everything you do works, then you’re not taking many risks and probably aren’t innovating either…” – Paul Buccheit

And Google has openly proclaimed many times that it encourages innovation amongst its employees. Gmail was the outcome of this. Change? That has been more or less the Google mantra over the years.

We can also say the same things about Facebook. Every time it changes the user interface, it is taking a risk. The risks taken by Facebook might seem a lot smaller than those taken by Google, but they are befitting its size.

The results are there for all to see. Google, a young startup a little over a decade ago, has outpaced all its competitors, including the other early upstart Yahoo! Search, to become the dominant player in the search engine market. It has also become a household name, thanks to its numerous other products. Facebook decimated the likes of Myspace, Friendster and Google to become the dominant player in social media.

Will This Strategy Work For Start-Ups?

Google and Facebook are huge companies, you might argue, and what works for them might not work for your company. This, however, is entirely untrue. The advantages of innovation and change are for everyone, from small startups to gigantic multi-national corporations. And it is easier, if anything, for small businesses to innovate.

“Compared to large corporations, small businesses have a number of innovation advantages that enable them to more readily identify opportunities, quickly react to changing conditions and remain competitive.” – Jeff Cornwall on drjeffcornwall.com

Because ideas don’t have to travel through as many layers of organizational hierarchy, small businesses can implement ideas faster.

If there was any question whether you need to innovate or change your business model with time, Google and Facebook provide glowing examples. It’s not so much the success of these two companies but the failures of the ones they have left eating their dust. The list, that includes major names like Myspace, Yahoo!, MSN, Orkut and others, shows just how necessary innovation and change are in today’s rapidly evolving market.

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