The most important difference between Facebook and Google


Google and Facebook are both highly innovative, highly profitable Silicon Valley-based internet companies that have – in just the past decade – altered the way humanity obtains information and communicates. That’s what they have in common. But they differ from one another in a crucial way that could make all the difference for the two companies going forward.

Edmond Lau, who describes himself as an “Ex-Google Search Quality Engineer”, yesterday responded to the following question on Quora:

What are some company-wide organizational and operational attributes that work well at Facebook, but don’t work so well at Google?

with this remarkably insightful answer:

The biggest organizational philosophy that works well at Facebook but doesn’t work well at Google is Facebook’s value of “Move fast and break things.”  In Zuckerberg’s S-1 letter from earlier in 2012, he wrote, “The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.” [1]  At Google, if you break something, the dominant cultural response would be that you didn’t do enough testing.

This translates into a few operational differences:

  • Facebook engineering can attain much higher iteration speeds than Google. Moving fast leads to Facebook mottos like “ship early and ship often” [2], which is not something that’s culturally ingrained at Google.
  • Google generally ends up with higher quality code and more test coverage  since more time is spent per launch and since not breaking things is important.  Shipping later and less frequently also means receiving initial user feedback later and receiving less user feedback over time, so there is likely also a stronger tendency at Google to overdesign products relative to at Facebook.
  • Moving fast lets Facebook place more bets and validate more ideas with less effort per idea, which lets it more quickly hone in on the ideas that produce the highest impact.  Conversely, Google is more likely to over-invest in the products and features that ultimately end up failing because it takes more effort to validate each idea.

Facebook’s only about a tenth of the size of Google in number of employees [3, 4], so time will show whether the culture of moving fast and breaking things will continue to scale as the company grows and as more things break.


[1] Facebook’s S-1 Letter From Zuckerberg Urges Understanding Before Investment | TechCrunch
[2] Facebook Engineering’s Notes: Ship early and ship twice as often
[3] How many employees does Facebook have?
[4] How many employees does Google have?

Photo: Crunchies

  • Bruce Kendall

    Interesting quantity before quality, I personally don’t do this in my business and I wonder who else does? Doesn’t seen like a positive long tern business philosophy. But of course if you have billions and only lose a million who would care.

    • Clement Tay

      It’s not really about quantity before quality.
      In this case it refers to getting user feedback as quickly as you can to reduce wasting efforts.

      I’m guessing A/B tests are also being run when something is released to determine if it has any value and should continue being developed.

    • Frank Forte

      It is not mutually exclusive. It is more a developer philosophy than a business philosophy… Shipping the same product with many iterations means quality can improve faster, even though quantity can still be one product or service. I agree with break things, but i don’t agree with shipping things that are broken or not fully tested

  • Mike McG

    One-sided description. The cost of moving fast and breaking things is much greater risk of losing customer trust and loyalty, something that is almost impossible to regain. It’s a calculated risk, but not a sustainable one. Case in point, we already see the seams blown wide open when it comes to they’re handling of privacy tools.

  • Ekunniyi Thompson

    there’s sth called scenario simulation in s/ware engineering, the idea is u can not completely simulate all possible user scenarios in the labs, eventually u always have to deploy and deal with bug fixes. Facebook might have an edge here, but comparing fb with google ain’t a fair match, size for one. Google might have a problem with the style eventually though, IBM is an unwilling example.

  • justforsignup95

    just a way of making fb look better than google

  • D C

    Main difference: Adults use google, 13-year old girls use facebook.

    • shekhar

      The best response & said with brevity! :)

      • mafioso


    • Gcina Methembe Mbuduma

      there is actually more adults than klids on fb

  • Yv S. Lis

    use this page as an example, facebook “like”s have never stopped working, whereas the Google plus button is constantly out of service. Usually it appears either google share or google plus is working, (you often have no choice, like something you only want to plus it, but have to share… ) while in this case, it is just down.

  • Franca Condo

    facebook has network effects so everyone is locked in.
    they can screw up and survive cause nobody can leave
    the one time they really screwed up was the move to mobile
    and instagram just jumped in and nearly stole the social graph from them

    mark just bought instagram and fixed his problem

    the sec and doj should not have allowed facebook to buy instagram

    that should have been against anti-trust laws

    allowing #1 to buy #2 in social media was a horrible decision

    • Max Platt

      ‘Ever questioned yourself why you are so reactive. Everything in your post is about that “WE Ca-a-a-a-an’t Li-i-i-i-ve without facebuk. Hello, here is you, if you aren’t familiar. !!!!????

  • Neurospastic

    My thought is that while some functionality of facebook breaking or behaving abnormally is unlikely to be noticed by its users as long as ‘like’ buttons and status updates still work, google is something akin to a utility company at this point… If something breaks, even in a minor way, a LOT of people will notice, and even their least used products could potentially be powering something critical… Not to mention that the number of moving parts in google’s infrastructure is drastically higher and more complex than facebook’s system.

  • Naureen Nayyar

    I’m intrigued- what sort of investor would only look at a Quora response by one ex-Googler? This article lacks depth and long-term insight into both companies, but the topic is interesting. “The most important” difference would imply you were looking at some high levels of data to come up with this, but this title is far more a marketing statement than based on numbers or investigative journalism/blogging. However, I might add this post is not far from the truth, at least based on personal insight from having friends at both companies, and also a quora response by someone in 2010 (FB pre-IPO insight) who said similar things about that FB you can make a bigger impact as “it is full of low hanging fruit”. He mentions what many say in a less eloquent fashion, that google is like grad school, while FB is like undergrad. Here is that quora post:

  • Max Platt

    That’s a valuable idea about the breaking something… However, if you break the bike it does not mean that you are ready for the car. If you break your old analog VHS recorder and can not repair it it does not mean that you should buy a Blu-ray recorder. More than that, most definitely you will break it as well and does not learn anything. So this statement is populistic and is made just to seem shroud and wise. Nothing is father from the truth. With that there is no reason even to spend time accessing the article further. And so – Google brought us Android (if I REALLY understand what i mean). Facebook brought us “virtual coexistence”. In reality the second is a distraction from reality.

  • Carole Wai Hai

    Very interesting. I guess these differences come from Larry and Sergey being doctorates originally while Mark started his career directly as an entrepreneur. Personally I prefer Hacker style than academic style. But we need both to balance the world.

  • An0nym0usC0ward

    IMO, as a SW developer, it’s not about “not moving fast enough”, and not about quality vs quantity.

    Failure is an absolute reality of engineering – not just software engineering. Cars break down, buildings collapse, electric appliances stop working, dogs become rabid, cats vomit on your carpet, people get cancer or go crazy – and online services break down. IMO, the cultural difference between Google and Facebook is how they relate to this reality. While Google works hard to hide this reality from its users, Facebook openly acknowledges it. I think Facebook’s approach is the more honest one, at least in this regard.

    As for the customer reaction thing to how you deal with things breaking: it’s a matter of setting expectations. Google has driven itself into a corner. Its users absolutely expect everything Google to work 24X7, even if that’s unreasonable. Facebook, OTOH, has set an expectation of occasional failure in its user base, and as such, will be forgiven much easier if it breaks, as long as breakage is quickly remedied and is seldom enough. Again, I think Facebook’s approach is more honest and more reasonable, at least in this regard.

  • shinee

    Seems to me that it is ‘Ends justify the means.’ Whatever the way they make their business grow it sure is working. The
    reason I read this article with a huge amount of interest is because I am currently reading a book on Goodreads called THE 5-STAR BUSINESS NETWORKS by Vivek Sood which argues some similar points in a more forceful and coherent
    manner. The part where ‘Google and Facebook are both highly innovative, highly profitable Silicon Valley-based internet companies that have – in just the past decade – altered the way humanity obtains information and communicates.’ resonates very well. So if you want to know more how these bigshot companies stay strong, I encourage you talk to the author of the book to get deeper insights into the material he is covering.

    • Albert Stone

      to shinee, can you give me points that can be found on the book by
      Vivek Sood that you find interesting? You said that this book – entitled
      5-STAR BUSINESS NETWORKS on Goodreads is connected to this article,
      which is somehow true but can you give more insights on that? truth is I
      went to Goodreads and put this on my reading list one since I am keen
      on learning more about economics, finance and modern commerce.

      • Dr.Acula

        You can just read it. really. Because maybe shinnee and I wanted you guys to read the book of Vivek Sood the 5-star business networks because we aint giving the book justice if we keep on babbling and quoting it. read it. maybe you could find a copy at goodreads or your local bookstore. really good book.

  • Mirko Manessi

    I couldn’t agree more with you, Mike McG, as I was telling myself the same while reading the article. Another big difference between Google & Facebook is that one (google) is also used a lot for work, while the other (facebook) is widely known for private use. So You cannot play with people’s working tools (something they already do quite lot) as you can play with people’s passtime tools.

  • Matthew11

    The facebook model sounds like it was written by a programmer, basically ensure job security but not doing it right the first time, that’s the programmers motto and the reason why programmers often have to be kept of a tight leash.

  • Greatsby

    I keep hearing this dumb comparison. Facebook is a social network company. It’s a valuable business, but you can’t compare it to Google. Facebook is a user-centric website, Google is a technology monster. It’s as if you compare skateboards, which are cool and social, with airplanes, which are all about science, tech and utility.