Long Before Google+, Google Declared War On Facebook With OpenSocial

Google and Facebook are at war. We’ve known this for a while. Of course, neither side will admit to it, but they are. Winner takes the Internet.

After months of Facebook owning Google in just about every way imaginable (well, except search, of course — but the rise of social is slowly making search less important), Google has finally been able to strike back with Google+. And now a full-on social sharing race is getting underway. It may not be a winner-take-all race, but it will eventually be winner-take-most. We simply can’t share everything across 5 or even 3 networks. Google is fighting an uphill battle in this regard, but at least they finally have a weapon.

But how did we get to this point where the two biggest names on the Internet are involved in a full-scale war? It all goes back to 2007, and perhaps even 2006.

This question was recently posed on Quora: What specific actions led to the massive rift between Facebook and Google? No less than Adam D’Angelo, the co-founder of Quora and very early Facebook employee, chimed in.

“To me, the biggest increase in tension was Google’s launch of OpenSocial in 2007. After seeing the success of Facebook Platform, Google went and got all the other social networks committed to OpenSocial under NDA without telling Facebook, then broke the news to Facebook and tried to force them to participate,” D’Angelo writes, pointing to this TechCrunch post from the time.

Facebook, as you might expect, did not take kindly to that action. “This was particularly offensive to Facebook because Google had no direct interest in social networking at the time and Facebook Platform had no direct impact on Google’s search or ads businesses. They didn’t care about Orkut and they didn’t build any applications,” D’Angelo notes.

A few months later, Facebook banned Google Friend Connect (a part of OpenSocial), further escalating matters. Facebook then went on to dominate social (remember, MySpace was still technically the leader at that time). On top of Platform, we got Connect, Open Graph, the Like button, etc. Facebook seized control, and we began to enter the Age of Facebook.

We’ll see if Google+ can stop that. Certainly, no one talks about OpenSocial or Friend Connect any more.

D’Angelo says that he can’t remember “any adversarial actions of that magnitude” before the OpenSocial announcement. And he says that before that, there was just the regular competition over engineering hires (which continues today). But there may have been something right before OpenSocial that triggered it.

As another Facebook employee (though not at the time), Jinghao Yan, remembers, the Microsoft investment in Facebook may have also contributed heavily to the increase in tensions. While talks had been going on for weeks, if not months, on October 24, 2007 — just a week before the OpenSocial announcement — Facebook formally accepted a $240 million investment from Microsoft for less than 2 percent of the social network.

Humorously, at the time, people were all up-in-arms over the $15 billion valuation this gave Facebook. Now it looks like one of the smarter investments Microsoft has made in recent years — though it was clearly always more about the strategic positioning. And that’s the key. Microsoft outbid Google for the right to secure this investment (and thus, strategic partnership) in the rising social network.

“I feel that this event is what made Google so antagonistic against Facebook–because it actively rejected Google’s embrace for Microsoft’s purse. As a result, it labeled Facebook more as a threat to its online dominance than as a potential partner,” Yan writes.

Below, that another Facebooker, Yishan Wong, points out that the 2006 advertising deal Facebook signed with Microsoft instead of Google may have kicked all of this off. And why did Microsoft go so hard after Facebook for this deal? Because earlier that same month, Google signed a similar $1 billion deal with Fox Interactive Media to run the ads on MySpace.

In other words, Google made a bet — a good one at the time, but one that was potentially very costly long-term.

And now the two sides are giants. At war.

More: How MySpace Tom May Have Inadvertently Triggered The Google/Facebook War