Facebook is testing a new tool that encourages users to set the social networking site as their browser homepage. It's hardly an unusual move. But at a time when the company is rolling out its own email service and resisting efforts to loosen its grip on user data, the move serves as an apt metaphor for Facebook's sweeping ambition.
It wants to be your home for, well, everything – displacing and even surpassing the web's reigning home: Google.
As noticed by Venturebeat and others, at least some Facebookers now see a "Make Facebook Home" button when they visit the social networking site. "See what's happening with Stephanie, Kim, and the rest of your friends the moment you open your browser," one user was told by Zuckerberg and company.
Asked to comment, Facebook did not immediately respond. But it's only natural that the company would seek to step where Google has so much power.
VentureBeat says it "can’t imagine people seeing [Facebook] as beneficial as Google and it’s [sic] powerful search capabilities." But it's quite easy to imagine. New media pundit Brain Solis just imagined it. And he says he's imagined it for years.
"The future of search is social...We can’t underestimate Facebook search," he says. "Google has long dominated search and the behemoth of a company is showing its age and its weaknesses. Even though Google is experimenting with integrating social into traditional search results, its algorithm is in dire need of a human touch — a human algorithm.
"At the same time, Facebook is slowly but surely improving its search feature. What used to simply display results within the network, now starts to feature results from around the Web where the displayed list is curated by the actions of your friends — as part of the platform. This will only improve and become more substantial in the coming months."
And search is just one tool Facebook hopes to reinvent atop its site. "Most industries are going to be rethought to be social and designed around people," Mark Zuckerberg said last week. "This is the whole evolution we've seen at Facebook." Some of this, he said, will come from third parties — Facebook is also a development platform — and some will come from Facebook itself. Some will happen on Facebook, and in other cases, Facebook will exert its influence on third-party sites, through its Facebook Connect set-up.
What's more, Facebook has introduced its own email service, attempting to move all communication into its walled garden. At the press event announcing the new service, Facebook repeatedly said it was not an email service. But, quite obviously, it is. It offers users their own @facebook.com email addresses, and it will process and store your email messages. "If it looks like a duck and smells like and duck and quacks like a duck..." says Pat Matthews, senior vice president of Rackspace's cloud computing business and the man who oversees the company's email services.
As Solis points out, Facebook is working not only to move people from Google search to Facebook search but from Gmail to Facebook Messaging. He also sees Zuckerberg and company pushing for a switch from Google Voice to Facebook with Skype, from Google Latitude to Facebook Places, from Google Docs to Facebook with Microsoft Office. And clearly they are.
We might add that Google Voice, Google Latitude, and Google Places are relatively new services. With these services, there are relatively few people to switch. Facebook is looking to beat Google at its own game — and then some. "Zuckerberg’s ultimate goal is to create, and dominate, a different kind of Internet," reads this summer's New Yorker profile of Mark Zuckerberg. "[He] was in middle school when Google launched, and he seems to have a deep desire to build something that moves beyond it." ®