In 1993, The New Yorker ran a famous cartoon with two dogs near a computer, with one mutt telling the other “On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog.”
Oh, how times have changed.
In the Facebook internet, everyone knows exactly what breed of dog you are.
That was Facebook’s real trick — convincing the world to identify themselves online. They pulled that off by giving net users a place to share photos and pithy updates, when the real purpose of Facebook, it turns out, is to layer identity over the fabric of the web.
For years, Google’s natural enemies seemed to be Microsoft and Yahoo. But as the search giant trounced those giants in the search space battle, it’s been slowly losing momentum in what may turn out to be the real war — the one for the display ad revenues — to an unlikely foe: the dorm-room-born Facebook.
We’ve seen a public pissing fight this week over who owns social network contact information, but that’s just the start.
Next Monday, Facebook is reportedly getting into Google’s e-mail face, mounting a challenge to Gmail, Google’s most successful social product. Users will reportedly get @facebook.com or fb.com e-mail addresses. But more importantly, Facebook already has ranking scores for every one of your relationships with contacts on Facebook and will use that to prioritize your inbox, according to the tech rumors.
That’s an important side battle, but it’s not where this war will be lost or won. That’s not where the money is.
Facebook, which began its life as a small private club for Ivy Leaguers, now has its sights set on what might be the net’s biggest pot of gold yet: a way of placing ads anywhere on the net with a granularity Google can only dream of — in no small part because Google promised its users never to go down that path.
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