Facebook, Google & Beyond: Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz & Ben Elowitz of Wetpaint Debate the Future of Information and Relationships

6/2/11Follow @curtwoodward

Among the “Gang of Four” tech giants that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt says are driving consumer technology innovation, two iconic companies—Google and Facebook—are battling for an important title: Who will dominate the means of accessing, sorting, and connecting to the Internet’s flood of information.

With Facebook on the rise, and Google’s self-professed stumbles in seizing its own pipeline of social data, there’s been a fair amount of speculation about Google’s prospects for holding onto its position.

Here in Seattle, we happen to have two entrepreneurs who know a boatload about the ways that consumers and businesses are navigating the 21st century playing field for information. They have informed and sometimes sharply opposing views. And they happen to be friends. I figured this would make for an interesting discussion.

Ben Elowitz is one of the many people who have declared search engine optimization dead. With the rise of social networks as a primary homebase for consumers online, he says, the days of using a complex portfolio of tactics to rank higher in Google results is going the way of the dinosaurs.

As the head of Seattle-based online media startup Wetpaint, Elowitz says this development is just great—he sees the fragmentation of content in a search-dominated world as divisive for publishers.

Rand Fishkin, however, would have to object. As the CEO of Seattle’s SEOmoz, a search-marketing software company, Fishkin has made a career (and many international speaking engagements) of mastering search engine optimization.

He’s an expert on Google’s ever-changing algorithm, including its attempts to corral social media data. He’s also a leading advocate for “white-hat” SEO tactics—growing genuine prominence and relevance without trying to game the system.

In a busy downtown coffee shop recently, I set up the broad topics and mostly tried to stay out of the way as Elowitz and Fishkin covered all kinds of fascinating territory: When Facebook will get into search, and whether Microsoft is effectively blocking the effort; why Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) should buy Color and Quora right away, at any price; and whether it’s scarier for society to have Google or Facebook holding the master keys to the way we sift the Web.

At one point, we jokingly decided that in this debate, Fishkin was basically just standing for Google while Elowitz was the champion for Facebook:

Fishkin: “I have 30 times your revenue.”

Elowitz: “I’m growing at 69 percent and you’re growing at 3 percent.”

Fishkin: “Dammit!”

What follows are lightly edited excerpts of their conversation, broken into several topics. I’ll start with Elowitz contrasting today’s searches with a fond memory of the dawn of Google as a force … Next Page »

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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    I have to admit that the idea of organising people into groups I find very compelling. Right at the moment I don’t share my facebook page with business contacts. I suspect many others have the same issues that a facebook page is about your social life and you quite possibly don’t want to mix that with your business life. I think there may be a cultural aspect to this as well. In the US I think there is less of a divide between private and business life, here in the UK I think we tend to have a firmer divide. Whether that’s a good or bad thing who’s to say but it does impact how we view applications like Facebook from a business standpoint.

    I’m going to be signing up for a Google+ account because I think this is a bold experiment from Google and I’m fascinated to see how it turns out.

    Best regards,