For months now, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft have been laying the groundwork for a relationship of convenience whose primary goal is to check the Google juggernaut. The Facebook-Microsoft-Apple triple entente is reminiscent of many a four-player Risk board game enjoyed in my youth. In Risk, the goal is world domination, plain and simple. When one person's armies acquire too much territory and power, the other players oftentimes form a loose alliance of mutual benefit to weaken the dominant player. Put simply, everyone decides to hogpile on the winning player.
Extending our Risk analogy to the online world, it's clear that Google is the dominant Internet power. Yes, Apple has more cash, and Facebook has more social, but Google dominates in search, mobile, and most importantly, online ad revenue. Google's only real weakness is in social, which is why they are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Google+. It could be reasonably argued that if the search giant can crack the code on social, there will be nothing stopping Google from veritable (online) world domination.
Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple, on the other hand, each lack elements that the other has.
Facebook needs a search engine, and mega-ad friendly platform that Madison Avenue media types can get excited about blowing wads of cash on.
Apple needs to become more than a device company. With a healthy balance sheet, Apple is poised to once again redefine how we interface with technology, perhaps this time via social (Apple) TV. Apple can lay groundwork for this vision by cozying-up to Facebook's highly-engaged and truly massive user base.
Microsoft sees an opportunity to beat Google in social search by more-deeply integrating Facebook's user base into its Bing search engine.
The common player in this would-be marriage of convenience is Facebook.
FACEBOOK AND BING
Earlier in June, Microsoft rolled out its revamped Bing.com search engine, complete with a social sidebar where users can see any relevant data from their social graph for any search they perform. The move is a response to Google's attempt at merging Google+ with its search results. On Google, pages your friends have shared on Google+ or have "+1'd" rank highly in search queries. With the new Bing structure, Microsoft has moved social data off to a sidebar, arguing that social results should "complement the standard search results without compromising them."¹ This may prove to be a big hit with users, as many have complained that Google+ data compromises the integrity of Google's search engine.
In addition to looking cool, Bing's social sidebar has included an "Ask Friends" feature, which gives users the ability to ask their Facebook friends a question. A closer integration with Facebook may help Bing eat away at Google's share of the US search market.¹ According to a recent study by Experian Hitwise reported in Mashable, in April Bing search queries controlled 30% of the US search market, up 11% year-on-year.
To compete with Google's new Knowledge Graph semantic search capability, Microsoft just signed a deal with Encyclopedia Britannica to integrate its extensive data set into Bing search results. I don't think this alone will be enough to compete with the Knowledge Graph, but it's a good start, and a signal that Microsoft understands what it needs to do to take on the dominant player in search.
Interestingly, a new study by Searchmetrics found that Facebook social shares are now the dominant ranking factor in Google's search engine. A closer relationship with Facebook would allow Bing to capitalize on this trend.
FACEBOOK AND APPLE
February, Apple CEO Tim Cook told a group of investors that Facebook was "the one company that is closest to being like Apple." He wasn't joking. Apple recently announced that Facebook integration will be baked into Apple's latest version of iOS. This is good timing, with Facebook's launch of its app center on June 8th. Facebook will be very important for Apple's iOS, especially given that many apps use Facebook for sign-ups and authentication.²
This may prove to only the beginning of a deeper relationship between Facebook and Apple. Josh Constantine speculates in a TechCrunch post that Facebook and Apple are working together to turn Facebook into a social television show via Apple TV. He points out that, because Facebook has the largest online archive of photos (over 250 million pics uploaded each day), users would likely take to uploading photos into hi-res slide shows on a Facebook TV network.
This integration would also give Facebook a way to cater to larger advertisers hungry to create flashier ads, which may prove indispensable to its monetization strategy. With user demand for social TV experiences gaining currency, Facebook could position itself at the forefront of social TV .
For Apple, this would give app developers another compelling reason to utilize the iOS platform. A deeper collaboration with Facebook would also give Apple an opportunity to integrate Facebook's Open graph into iTunes, allowing millions of iTunes users to share what they are watching and listening to with their Facebook friends.
Moreover, a Facebook-Apple collaboration in social TV might go a long way to check Google's similar efforts on its YouTube platform.
Any move by Facebook, Microsoft and Apple to check Google's online supremacy can only help business owners and marketers, as new avenues for spreading the word about a company's products and services proliferate almost daily.
With the center of gravity for marketing and advertising continuing its shift to Internet, social and mobile technologies, businesses need to develop a clear digital marketing strategy that is relevant to their business and implement it, recognizing that many tweaks and changes will have to be made along the way. If change is the new constant, waiting on the sidelines until things stabilize is not an option. In order to compete, brands are going to have to flow with the fast-moving online current or risk getting swept up by it.
In the game of Risk as in life, one player often stands out as the primary architect of an alliance. The evidence suggests that Facebook has become the linchpin to this techie triple entente.
As Zuckerberg moves toward deeper ties with Microsoft and Apple, I wouldn't be surprised if he finds himself humming the timeless Beatles lyric "I get by with a little help from my friends."