What Newspapers Can Learn From Facebook and Mobile, how Google was the big loser in the FB Privacy Debate

I’ve written multiple times about the value of independence from Google to Newspapers. Of course, each generated responses from many who disagreed with me.   I just wanted to point out that Facebook, arguably  the largest and most important website in the world has most of its content walled off from Google.

In fact, the biggest loser in the Facebook  privacy debate is not Facebook, it’s Google. Why ? Because the more people that put all their status updates, information and pictures behind a wall of privacy, the fewer status updates available to google (and other search engines as well).  The net result is that Google’s mission to index all the world’s information has been irreparably damaged.  500mm Facebook users and most of what they all publish to their networks is unavailable.  There is probably more information being published by FB users than on blogs, and possibly even more unique content than is published by all newspapers in aggregate. Thats a lot of the world’s information that is not available to Google.

If Facebook can choose to offer no more than basic profile information and the status updates of users that opt-in, why shouldn’t newspapers do the same thing ? Offer its headlines (status updates) to Google, and then let those who want more information click through to the newspaper site. Once the user gets to their site, the newspaper can decide whether they want a login (Facebook Connect ? ahh the irony) and/or want to charge for access, or just give free and open access to the content. It’s their business decision.

Disconnecting from Google hasn’t hurt Facebook, why shouldn’t newspapers do the same thing?

But wait there is more.

There is a wholesale change occurring in how we acquire information. In the past, if we were looking for a new restaurant in our home town, the score of a game or news headlines we may do a search to get information. Now, as the commercial says, “There is an app for that”. Just download the app that lists the restaurants, points of interest, museums, news, sports scores whatever you are interested in to your app enabled device of choice.  If there isn’t an app for it today, there will be.  If you carry an Apple or Android (owned and offered for free by Google) enabled device just look at how your information discovery and consumption habits have changed.  Do you search more or less?  Do you now get information from Apps that you used to get in search results ? Of course you do.

All that information in all those apps on all those devices, as well as the discovery steps you take to get that information are all hidden from Google (at least on the IPhone and non Android platforms, which may be why Android is free and available to all in an effort to counterbalance this problem). Worse for google, with companies like Urban Airship and Superfeedr.com, more and more real time updates are being delivered exclusively to apps, independent of the device operating system  and not being posted on the web.

Bottom line,   Facebook and mobile apps have shown that there is life without Google, newspapers should recognize this as an opportunity and get their apps out and rethink how they make their information available to Google.

27 thoughts on “What Newspapers Can Learn From Facebook and Mobile, how Google was the big loser in the FB Privacy Debate

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  3. Excellent points. Newspapers supplying their info to Google was a major contributing factor in Google’s sustainable start back in the day. Now, the papers need Google to deliver traffic. In a perfect world, the newspaper industry would stick it to Google and wall of their sites. However, that action alone would starve the papers our of business. Other posters have mentioned the difference in content between Facebook and the papers. There is another vast difference: Facebook is a destination site and most newspapers aren’t. The only way a paper walkout would work is if all papers did it together and if together they founded a competing info aggregation site that only indexed participating news sources. If all major papers participated, it could work.

    Comment by Wildman -

  4. Mark you bring up some good points about GOOG’s vulnerability. GOOG stock is down 19% this year. MSFT is down 13%, NASDAQ index is up 1% and AAPL is laughing itself to the bank with a 30% gain this year.

    Comment by toddq1381 -

  5. I have to agree with the commenters that say the information is fundamentally different. All sites that have private information (Banking, eMail, etc.) are off-limits to Google. The fourteen Facebook updates by Jerry in Jersey on the Tony awards… off-limits to Google… thankfully!

    What you might complain about is the inadequacy of Facebook search. I would love for Facebook (or Google) to privately index my Facebook stream the way Google does with gMail. Can you search your Facebook connections or even just the people you follow on Twitter for “oil spill”? On Facebook you have to thread a needle to get it right and even then it misses posts I know I’ve read. On Twitter, I don’t know if it’s possible… at least I don’t see it in the UI.

    Comment by Nick Oliva -

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  8. Mark – Great post and follow-up comments from the group. May I suggest a great resource for busy professionals such as ourselves. I love my Google Reader just like everyone here. Google Reader is good at capturing blogs and national sources that we follow and read.

    As we all know news starts local. Most newspapers are very poor at sharing their information out in a readable format. I have found that statenewslines.com works great for me to get access to local news quickly. In our business we use it to find business opportunities and most importantly saves me time. Instead of having to go and read 10 to 15 newspapers websites I have all the headlines right there on my screen that I can scan quickly.

    They are available in all 50 states (ex. http://www.txnewslines.com) and all 50 states are available in the App Store for the iPhone. So no matter where you guys are from it should be a great resource for you.

    Comment by markburdette -

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  10. “Facebook and mobile apps have shown that there is life without Google”- Although Facebook & apps do offer a vast amount of recreational features, when it comes to more serious issues & opportunities (whether it be personal or business) Google still prevails far beyond what FB and apps are able to provide.

    Comment by deemarg -

  11. Mark — this is exactly the theme of my recent research. We have a name for the phenomenon of more and more of the Web being walled off behind passwords and in incompatible devices — we call it the splinternet.

    More here: http://bit.ly/SPLINT

    Comment by jbernoff -

  12. If Facebook is so powerful, why don’t they charge…or make money?

    The value of being able to search FB would be for advertisers, but not for the general population. There is nothing I WANT to search for that can only be found on FB that I cannot already have.

    Most information comes TO FB from an outside source. A comment is an opinion and that is not valuable in such a short burst with not much substance. And if it is valuable it is being distributed on Twitter most likely.

    The “there is an app for that” is the biggest threat to GOOG. They will have a hard time getting advertising dollars if less people search in a way that will lead them to advertisers sites to make purchases.

    Comment by disfiguredskating -

  13. Wow. Google and YouTube lose every week, according to your blog. By this time next year, they’ll probably be insolvent, right?

    What did Google do to you to make you so ridiculously irrational and biased? You act like a high school kid who had his girlfriend stolen by Google. It really tarnishes what could otherwise be a consistently solid and informative blog.

    The “information” on Facebook is pretty useless, actually. The most valuable part of it would be the status updates that relate to current, real-time events. And, Google’s deal with Twitter helps them bubble user-generated content about breaking news to the top of their search results quite easily. So I’m not sure I really see what they’re losing if they don’t index my status update about Michael Jackson, but my Tweet about his death is at the top of their results.

    Comment by mikel123 -

  14. Great post, Mark. Thanks 🙂

    Very interesting stuff and I welcome all the changes you are pointing out. Monopolies don’t naturally occur, and this is a great example of a free market (the internet) adjusting to provide value to consumers in a way that keeps a monopoly from happening.


    – Jeff

    Comment by Jeff Nabers -

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  16. What works for Facebook won’t necessarily work for newspapers because they offer different kinds of information. When I want updates on my friends and family, the first place I go is to Facebook(or Twitter. When I want the latest news, I go to Google.

    Privacy concerns aside Facebook offers a clean, straightforward interface that allows me to connect with people I know and find out information about them. When I want news, I go to Google News and search for a specific topic and read the articles. If I have to sign up for it, even if it is free, I’m not reading your article. There are simply too many other legitimate news sites that I can read articles from for free and without signing up for. I want my information about current events to be hassle free(i.e. not having to sign up to read 1 article).

    Bottom line: Disconnecting from Google has not hurt Facebook for two reasons: 1) not everyone has all of their profile information private. Therefore, Facebook really hasn’t completely disconnected from Facebook. 2) As others have pointed out, Facebook offers “specialized” information about an user’s friends, family, interests, etc that only a select number of people want to know about. That model wouldn’t translate to newspapers, because they offer general news that I can get from billions of different places without having to sign up anywhere.

    Also, when I go to Facebook, it is more about connecting with other people moreso than finding information out about them. It is about establishing and maintaining relationships.

    Comment by Matt -

  17. Google is only a loser if you value search results over relationships. Most who use Fakebook(sic) don’t search for information there, they converse with and email their friends and relatives. It’s actually a good thing that if I’m searching for say a restaurant, as you say, Google does provide a portal for which it is easy to find one close to me, without having to sift through all the Cafe World posts on Fakebook, for example.

    It seems like you’re betting on their being one all encompassing device that is handheld, that will be al things to all people, and I’m pretty sure that’s never going to be the case, at least in the real world. There may exist a world wherein there’s this mythical device, and it’s probably already appeared in a bad Syfy movie as well. However, I don’t think we’re moving as fast toward that world as you think, Mark.

    Comment by Matches Malone -

  18. The reason this is good for Facebook is not why it’s good for newspapers. Facebook is valuable without Google because people care intensely about the information on the network (ie, stuff about their friends). Newspapers, as we are painfully learning, do not have that same appeal. Sure, the WSJ does. I’d argue that Cat Fancy and Guitar World do too.

    But the general newspaper who just reprints AP articles week in and week out and tries to get people to subscribe? It’s an outmoded business model that is dying because it deserves to. This is neither good nor bad for Google, but Facebook’s success without Google illustrates the point: if people care about your content, you don’t need to make it free or even accessible. Too bad for small papers — no one cares about their content. The smartest thing that Gladwell has ever said is that the age of the generalist is over.

    Anyway, good points in the above. The Bing commercials about “search overload” are correct (although too bad for Bing they are just making fun of themselves as well) — no one cares about a list of ALL restaurants in their town anymore. They care about what Yelp has to say about what the best restaurants are. When I’m on vacation, I don’t Google “restaurants in LA” — and it would be absurd to do so. I go to Yelp and read some rankings.

    So what is search becoming? Simple: a phone book.

    Comment by markcaseyonline -

  19. Provocative post, as always, Mark. What you’re really talking about is the (r)evolution of the Information Age into the Age of Engagement. Google represents the pinnacle of the information superhighway: You get on, put the pedal to the metal and get to your destination. But we’re changing into a post-information society. Facebook represents the emerging paradigm: It’s your best friend’s kitchen table, a place where you sit around, swap stories, catch up on news and gossip, play games and generally have a good time.


    – Facebook’s 500 million users each spend 3.5 times more time on the site than on Google.
    – The Internet (meaning social media, meaning FB) has moved into second place as America’s most popular entertainment medium, surpassing everything except TV, according to an Edelman study released this week.

    What this *really* means for newspapers is that they can no longer rely upon being strictly an information medium. They must incorporate elements of both information and engagement. In other words, they must meld the best of Google and FB — as well as whatever Google- and FB-killers some unknown college kids are now devising in their dorm rooms as we speak.

    Steve Woodward
    CEO, Nozzl Media

    Comment by nozzlsteve -

  20. I’m curious when Facebook will figure out its strategy with corporate users for business communications. The power of facebook functionality within today’s corporate world (remote employees, always ‘on’ in a decentralized, but real-time environment) can change the face of employee productivity and render email as a meaningless tool. Two organizations have already jump-started this (Salesforce with their new Chatter functionality and SuccessFactors with their acquisition of a company called CubeTree). They may not directly compete today, but are on a collision course to be the primary communication and collaboration tool within the corporate space. If I was facebook, I would be following this quite closely. Their growth rate won’t keep up forever.

    Comment by chappydotcom -

  21. First of all, your statement that Facebook is arguably the most important site on the web … you’ve got to be kidding. Facebook is a complete time waste for the most part. And, as previous social networking rises and falls have proven, barriers to entry in the space are low. Facebook can and ultimately WILL be supplanted by a better solution. It is inevitable.

    As for Facebook being walled off from Google … one day soon, people are going to realize that QUALITY of data is far more important than quantity of data. I assume you already understand this or you wouldn’t be recommending that newspapers prevent their content from being indexed. Bottom line, you can make the case that Facebook contains a vast amount of content but no one can vouch for its quality. So Google isn’t really missing out because aggregating all data isn’t as important as aggregating GOOD data.

    Your argument falls flat in general because there is no empirical data to suggest that overall search in general as provided by sites like Yahoo and Google is declining which is what you are suggesting. Sorry, but it ain’t happening. When I do my searching, Google is the first place I go to and will be for the foreseeable future and I’m not alone. You forgot that, when it comes to search, Google HAS AN APP FOR IT TOO. Ever heard of ANDROID? Yeah, Google has one upped the app thing by creating and controlling an ENTIRE platform that integrates its services in a complete fashion. Android is the fastest growing smartphone platform in the world and Goog’s is getting up to bat again with Chrome OS. Facebook doesn’t generate the revenue to even begin to compete with Google in the platform space.

    As for newspapers, they became less relevant because they moved away from the things people expected from them, which is objectivity, impartiality and quality of reporting. They also proved inept at developing strategies that allowed the Web to effectively SUPPLEMENT print instead of replace it. If newspaper offered a “cliff notes” version of the news online and a higher quality, more detailed version of the news in print, aggregators like Google would be far less of a threat. But I guess offering a quality product and marketing it effectively would have been too intelligent, right?

    Comment by sinisterx -

  22. i think google could care less about what is on facebook. i’m sure they are really upset about missing out on what everyone is doing on farmville and mafiawars….

    twitter’s data is much more valuable, and very available to google.

    facebook is going the way of myspace. it’s becoming bloated and unusable. it is becoming uncool. you can’t be uncool and bigbrotherish. google understands this. if i want to find someone i don’t go to facebook, i go to google and linkedin.

    as android spreads and google’s social applications multiply and intertwine with the apps we already always use all day (gmail, search, etc) google and twitter will end up on top.

    facebook doesn’t matter anymore, especially to google.

    Comment by krayyy -

  23. But wait, facebook’s been getting hammered for wanting to make profiles public so they can be indexed by Google. That seems to counter your point.

    Comment by akkartik -

  24. Google isn’t in need of information from Facebook. 99% of FB updates are only useful to a specific audience of each update – Google understands this as so does FB.

    Some information/updates/”news” needs to stay walled off from the search engines as they are so specialized that otherwise they just become non-valued noise.

    The Newspaper industry and Music businesses, to me, have a common problem – new disruptive distribution technologies. As so many pundits have commented, the cost of distribution is approaching zero for these industries. Therefore, they need to shed themselves of the bondage of their legacy infrastructure that cripples their ability to move into the 21st century and to stay profitable.

    With news, the world will always need great reporting and editing, else news simply becomes illegible noise. I, as well as millions of other consumers are willing to pay to have access to GREAT INFORMATION. I love my Google reader and RSS.

    In order for the industry to survive, the Newspaper industry will need to shed the “paper” mentality and provide a digital distribution stream that is easy for consumers to consume and easy for the industry to contribute to. I don’t understand why they actually don’t charge more for the paper product since keeping that infrastructure alive cost more per capita consumer since the viewer ship of a paper product is on a severe down slide.

    Consumers want ala carte with everything now – food, shelter, news, music… everything. If the News Industry is to survive the next 20 years they will need to realize that “paper” is truly dying the slow death. The baby boomer’s are in their twilight and when they are gone you’ll have the 60’s and on bunch who know how to consume high tech products.

    The News industry needs a severe kick in the ass to learn to sell their product to the consumer of the present and future, not the consumer of the past.

    Comment by Herschel -

  25. There is a key difference between Facebook and newspapers: competition.

    Facebook, while not a monopoly, is fairly dominant in the social networking field, and accrues significant benefits from the network effect and user switching costs (reconnecting with friends on another site, re-entering information, etc.). To the extent Facebook loses users, they’re generally leaving online social networking altogether, not moving to another site.

    By contrast, newspapers, by and large, are fairly undifferentiated. Sure, the New York Times has some big name writers that make them a destination, but in general, readers can get about the same information from the Washington Post, LA Times, Times of London, etc. There is some differentiation in local news (if I want to find out about local goings-on in Des Moines, IA, I’ll look in the Des Moines Register, not the LA Times), but even there, the news may also be available from websites of local radio or TV stations, college/university newspapers, etc. This lack of differentiation has been exascerbated by newspaper cost-cutting over the past 10 years.

    Comment by cmadler -

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  27. I agree with the first paragraph. There’s a wealth of info inside FB that google can’t access (although the value of most is questionable, I’d say).

    But the issue I’d raise with the second paragraph is that the difference between FB and newspapers is much of the information on FB is “unique” whereas news content is generally a commodity. A FB status update is unique. A note is unique. A connection is unique. But a breaking news story on let’s say, the BP oil spill? if one news outlet decides to wall its garden, there’ll be another one that provides the same info. Now the newspapers could start walling gardens around some of its columnists, but I’d say the challenge with that is there’s very few columnists iconic enough to get a critical mass of people to pay.

    Comment by snorkybluefog -

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