Google vs. Facebook: Fight of the Century

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) was the cool kid on the block when it went public seven years ago. Its leadership seemed smarter and better than that of its competitors. And its motto "don't be evil" declared to the world that Google held itself to a higher standard.

Sadly, a new neighbor has moved in next door, and he's a lot hipper and much more popular. Facebook has already taken a lot of talent away from Google, and it now aims to take away its advertising business, too. Over the next few years, we will witness one of the greatest corporate showdowns in history. Who do you think will win the contest?

I recently read each company's introductory letter to its SEC registration for going public, and I thought it might be helpful to see which company put forward a stronger case for its business. Here are the results:

Round 1: Title of introductory letter
Facebook: It went with "Letter from Mark Zuckerberg." It's short, sweet, and to the point. Nothing fancy about it.

Google: Similar to Facebook, it went with "Letter From the Founders." But then it added a subtitle, "An Owner's Manual for Google's Shareholders." In a footnote, Larry Page and Sergey Brin stated that the subtitle was inspired by Warren Buffett, who used the term "Owner's Manual" to explain how Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) operated to its shareholders.

Winner: Google. Adding the Buffett touch was a nice way to show its future and existing shareholders that it cared about them.

Round 2: Opening lines
Google: Its opening lines were, "Google is not a conventional company. We don't intend to become one." This is good. No one likes a conventional company, even if they are not quite sure what one is. This is an effective, anti-establishment message.

Facebook: It leads with, "Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission -- to make the world more open and connected." Google doesn't want to be a conventional company? Well, Facebook didn't even intend to be a company. This is a much more effective message to the anticorporate crowd, which loves to invest in billion-dollar tech companies.

Winner: Facebook. No one likes anyone who ever actually wanted to start a company. It's much better to stumble into a massively successful enterprise.

Round 3: Best line
Google: "Don't be evil."

Facebook: "Move fast and break things."

Winner: Facebook. This is a controversial decision. The "don't be evil" line was great, and it really resonated with the public. But there's also something self-righteous and self-conscious about it. "Moving fast and breaking things" is much, much cooler, and more suitable to our nihilistic times.

Round 4: Self-image
Google: Page and Brin refer to their employees as "Googlers."

Facebook: Zuckerberg sees his employees as "Hackers."

Winner: Facebook. Sorry, but the term "Googler" seems sort of creepy to me. If someone told me a "Googler" was in my backyard, I'd call the police. "Hacker," on the other hand, makes me think of a guy in jeans and a T-shirt who can move billions of dollars across Swiss bank accounts with the click of a mouse. Which guy do you want to hang out with?

Round 5: Cool cultural feature
Google: 20% time -- each Google employee gets to spend 20% of their time on things they choose.

Facebook: Bootcamp -- engineers and managers are required to learn Facebook's codebase, tools, and approach.

Winner: Google. 20% time is about individual empowerment. Bootcamp sounds like, um, bootcamp. And that's only hip to people who've never actually been through real bootcamp.

Round 6: Closing lines
Google: "Sergey and I, and the team will do our best to make Google a long term success and the world a better place."

Facebook: "We believe that we have an opportunity to have an important impact on the world and build a lasting company in the process. I look forward to building something great together."

Winner: Facebook. Both companies have very strong closing lines that show they care about making the world a better place. But Facebook wins, in my opinion, by saying it wants to build something great together. That's an important distinction, I think, and shows that Facebook wants to empower its users.

The winner is...
Totaling it all up results in Facebook defeating Google, four rounds to two. It was a close battle, but ultimately Facebook seemed sharper and less pious.

All three authors -- Zuckerberg, Brin, and Page -- seemed a bit too pleased with themselves, however, when talking about their efforts to change the world. In Groupon's (Nasdaq: GRPN  ) recent SEC registration, its CEO poked fun of that impulse by writing, "After selling out on our original mission of saving the world to start hawking coupons, in order to live with ourselves, we vowed to make Groupon a service that people love using."

Perhaps one takeaway for Zuckerberg, Brin, and Page from this exercise would be this: Don't take yourselves so seriously, guys. And may the best billion-dollar advertising company win!

John Reeves owns shares of Google. You can follow him on Twitter where he goes by @TMFBane.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Berkshire Hathaway. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (18) | Recommend This Article (20)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2012, at 1:01 PM, ArizonaLoon wrote:

    Dude!

    "I look forward to building something great together."

    Translation: We actively pry into your lives and make KAZILLIONS from and using (selling) your personal info for our advertisers.

    At least Google appealed to the good in people (and hopefully inspired a few...)

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2012, at 1:21 PM, Chancing wrote:

    Like Google's letter better, indeed.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2012, at 2:30 PM, rtichy wrote:

    Google: we will tell you what the internet can tell you about you.

    Facebook: we will tell everyone else what you tell your friends about you.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2012, at 4:35 PM, gilbertmj2 wrote:

    Pretty good article, agree with the results, but then again the world is a materially different place now than then.

    Google should also get at least a free +1 for pushing through the fight first, and years earlier. Facebook then, has a standard to compete against, and outperform.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2012, at 6:17 PM, Lituus wrote:

    This is a really idiotic article.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2012, at 6:52 PM, logotrix wrote:

    I thought this was going to be an idiotic article (for one thing, there's nothing "hip" about Facebook now that your grandparents are "friending" you) but reference to the Google corporate mantra ( "don't be evil") has significance in terms of who is going to win the war of social media. . Refusing to be evil is a fine and noble thing but Facebook has clearly positioned itself beyond good and evil. Llike it or not, they are the guy with the knife at a fist-fight, and I'm pretty sure they'll stop at nothing to win the war. Their corporate ethos seems strangely anti-social, given the business they're - which (sadly) gives them a huge competitive advantage right out of the gate.

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2012, at 7:03 PM, Risky88 wrote:

    I think it's more like....

    Google

    Against the entire WORLD!

    Lol

    There are everywhere in technology!

    Phones!

    Cloud!

    Social network!

    Computers!

    Tablets!

    Even more probably.

    Google vs. the World!

  • Report this Comment On March 21, 2012, at 9:24 PM, TMFBane wrote:

    Thanks for all of your comments everyone! I always appreciate the feedback.

    This piece was mostly a lighthearted attempt to compare the intros to the S-1 filings of the two companies with the SEC. But I did notice some real and meaningful differences between them. And I do feel that Facebook's intro to its S-1 is the stronger of the two.

    Here are the links if you'd like to read more:

    Google : http://www.buec.udel.edu/pollacks/Acct351/handouts/SEC%20For...

    Facebook:

    http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1326801/0001193125120...

    Let me know what you think!

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 12:01 AM, piaty wrote:

    In my opinion , I search anything by "google" but "facebook" I just see what my friend do some diotic thing

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 8:10 AM, afamiii wrote:

    I must agree with Littuus on the idiot factor.

    Neither Apple nor Microsoft had founder letters with their IPOs, nor did IBM, Intel or Walmart to my knowledge.

    I don't believe it counts for anything.

    I think most people would agree that Google comes across as being more authentic than Facebook. As do Larry Page and Sergey Brin vs. Zuckermann.

    Should originality not count for anything, copying after all is relatively easy.

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 9:20 AM, pondee619 wrote:

    "This piece was mostly a lighthearted attempt to compare the intros to the S-1 filings of the two companies with the SEC".

    Why? What relevance did these letters have in making an investment decision? Why write this article?

    Lituus gets the rec.

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 9:55 AM, sydisquid wrote:

    this is a really stupid article.

    why did you write it?

    and why did I waste my time reading it.

    Why?

    because i expect good things from the Fool and this ain't up to it.

    thumbs down.

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 10:37 AM, talmidchacham wrote:

    Silly and pointless article, don't mean to be rude.

    Google is a company that is reshaping the world with it's technological, information, cellular and marketing advancements. Facebook is a place where people spend their days hiding from real relationships and pointlessly gossiping about others. Am i alone here in seeing these two companies aren't even playing the same game let alone competing.

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 10:47 AM, chrisc3616 wrote:

    You forgot to answer one slightly important thing?

    Should we buy Facebook stock or not after the IPO?

    Yes or No? :-)

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 12:11 PM, drfool21 wrote:

    I gotta fully agree with talmidchacham on this one. Well said.

    Google= Innovation, Innovation, Innovation

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 1:26 PM, TMFBane wrote:

    @chrisc3616, That's a great question. I provided my thoughts on that in a piece just the other day. I wrote the following about Facebook,

    Will I be buying on day one? Probably not, though I'm very interested in the company, and feel it has tremendous growth ahead of it. I'll be watching closely and may consider buying shares in the months after it goes public. I'm not quite sure it will be the greatest investing story of the next decade. But I'm not sure it won't be either.

    Here's the link to the entire piece:

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/03/20/the-greates...

    For the record, I think both Google and Facebook are outstanding businesses. I really do. I also think they are very clearly in competition with one another and that's will intensify in the future.

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 1:44 PM, RegLeCrisp wrote:

    Who wins this battle? Microsoft.

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2012, at 3:41 PM, travel110 wrote:

    Why write the article? I believe it is in the title of Motley Fool "educate, amuse & enrich".

    I think that says it all.

    I enjoyed the article.

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