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.

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[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

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Mick Weinstein
Mick Weinstein
Mick is the Head of Editorial for Covestor, a financial journalist and online content specialist. Prior to joining Covestor, Mick was for five years the Editor in Chief and VP Content at stock market analysis website Seeking Alpha, where he built the editorial function as the site attracted over 3.5 million unique monthly visitors and developed an innovative platform for intelligent stock market discussion.

Mick is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.