Is Facebook the next Google? Maybe and maybe not, but either way there's a lot that Facebook can learn from Google and from the Googlers it's hiring.
The latest person to move offices from Mountain View, Calif., to Facebook, seven miles away in Palo Alto is Sheryl Sandberg. The Google vice president of global sales and operations will become chief operating officer at the social network company later this month.
Facebook previously hired Benjamin Ling, who was in charge of Google Checkout; Justin Rosenstein, a developer on GDrive and product manager for Google Page Creator; and Gideon Yu, former YouTube chief financial officer who left shortly after Google acquired YouTube in 2006.
Sandberg helped turn online ads into a cash cow for Google and handled sales operations while the company's employees and revenue grew by leaps and bounds. She and the other ex-Googlers understand the Internet and how to turn ads into cash better than anyone else. Sandberg is more than qualified for the job at Facebook, whose 500-person business is miniscule compared with Google's 16,000 operation.
Sandberg also will help Facebook avoid another privacy fiasco such as the storm caused by its Beacon ad-tracking technology. My colleague, Caroline McCarthy caught up with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who insisted that Sandberg isn't a pure replacement for outgoing executive Owen Van Natta.
For Googlers, Facebook offers an opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond and join a start-up with a popular consumer Internet site, focused on innovative technology and run by a daring young Ivy Leaguer.
"Facebook is maturing, and they're trying to figure out how to be a revenue-generating company...the social networking part was easy; the business part isn't necessarily," said Tim Hanlon, an executive vice president at Denuo, a consulting arm of advertising agency Publicis Groupe.
The hiring of Googlers at Facebook "is more an indication that Google is becoming a big company that is probably not providing the entrepreneurial opportunities that people thought they were getting when they originally signed up," he said. Indeed, my new editor, Dan Farber, calls the move one of Zuckerberg's smartest so far.
Googlers are likely getting frustrated by the sheer size of the company now, said Satya Patel, a former product manager for ads at Google who now runs the digital media investing efforts at Battery Ventures.
"The people at Google have seen this movie before and know what it takes to solve some of the problems that Facebook is dealing with on a daily basis," he said. "They see Facebook as an opportunity to be part of a small organization and have that same impact again" that they had in the early days at Google.
Patel sees such migrations of workers in Silicon Valley as a natural evolution. "People are going from the successes of the prior decade to the successes of the coming decade," he said.
Rosenstein declined to be interviewed, but his words when he left Google for Facebook in June 2007 say a lot:
"Facebook really is That company. Which company? That one. That company that shows up once in a very long while--the Google of yesterday, the Microsoft of long ago. That company where large numbers of stunningly brilliant people congregate and feed off each other's genius. That company that's doing with 60 engineers what teams of 600 can't pull off. That company that's on the cusp of Changing The World, that's still small enough where each employee has a huge impact on the organization...That company where everyone seems to be having the time of their life."