A Desperate Strike
The brushfire war between Google and Facebook gains another battle this weekend with the announcement that Gmail will now block Facebook importation of data. Facebook already blocks everyone from importing their data (they even tangled with Twitter over it) but this is the first "strong-arm" attempt to provoke a change.
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Google seems to be trying to head off a full-on data war here by announcing their intention to block contact importing to anyone that blocks contact importing themselves. It's a defensible position.
But there's no way Facebook won't take it personally. As evidence, consider Zuckerberg's snippy complaints at the mobile event that Google stole the Facebook app developer. "It was kind of frustrating,"
Something tells me Zuck will find this news kind of frustrating too. That said, Facebook is definitely in the position of strength here. They've already beat Google as the most visited website in the United States. Users also spend more time on the Facebook than they do on Google. For advertisers, Google's bread-and-butter, that's a very important metric to lose on.
The search engine has already fought back, launching Google Buzz to give them some way of competing as a social network. That hasn't gone well so far. Google appears to be getting the worst of this fight, but simply backing off isn't an option. Facebook will strangle them.
Thanks to Facebook's insular, recursive design, users tend to stay within the web of sites associated with Facebook. There's fear that this will eventually form a splinternet that proves much more profitable than the greater Internet.
If Google can force Facebook to allow contact importation, they'll have won a powerful concession. But if Facebook turns out to be perfectly capable of surviving without Google's data, prospects could soon turn dark for the search engine.