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Summary:

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, said the social network and Google are nothing alike. Sandberg, a former Google VP, laid out some of the differences at a conference on Thursday, noting the focus and priorities of the two companies and how they go about developing products.

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Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, said the social network and Google are nothing alike. She should know, having served as a Google VP before being lured over to Facebook. Sandberg laid out some of the differences at BusinessInsider’s Ignition conference, noting the focus and priorities of the two companies and how they go about developing products.

“Our product strategy is about as different from Google’s as two tech companies can get,” she said.

Focus on a few things

While Google has gained a reputation for throwing a lot of ideas up against the wall and seeing what sticks, Sandberg said Facebook looks to build products and services that ultimately are designed to serve a larger goal, creating a social technology that everyone uses. She said Facebook still tries to make big bets but “ruthlessly” prioritizes its goals and cuts back on what doesn’t work.

“We’re focused on doing a few things well,” she said.

Now, some of the differences stem from the fact that Facebook is much smaller than Google. In fact, Sandberg said that Google has more job openings than Facebook has employees overall. But she said some of that is by design, as Facebook looks to foster a tight team that can innovate quickly and feel like everyone is making an impact. Google started out this way as well, but it has become a huge operation now, with businesses spread out over a lot of areas. To Google CEO Larry Page’s credit, he’s been cutting back on a lot of the projects to bring more focus back to Google, something Steve Jobs urged him to do before Jobs passed away.

But Sandberg’s characterization still fits to some degree. Facebook continues to partner with media groups in a push to make things more social, but it’s not trying to get outside of its core business of connecting people. Google, meanwhile, is in the process of buying Motorola, which means it not only operates a platform but also competes with its own manufacturing partners.

Build a social layer across all devices

Sandberg batted away questions about the company’s potential IPO and a Facebook phone, saying she didn’t want to engage in speculation, which Henry Blodget, the CEO and editor-in-chief of BusinessInsider, rightly pointed out she wasn’t being asked to do. She knows what’s going on. But she said the goal is to build a social layer across all devices, which seems to jibe with her emphasis on prioritizing the company’s goals.

But while she wouldn’t take the bait on a Facebook phone, she did criticize Google for the openness of Android, which she said hasn’t lived up to Google’s promise.

“If you buy a phone, you should be able to share pictures and upload your photos with Facebook,” Sandberg said. “Android has made a public commitment to openness, and we want to see that commitment kept.”

While Google has endured questions about the openness of Android, I’m not sure what Sandberg is referring to here, because Android does allow users to easily share pictures through Facebook or any other installed apps. But it’s an interesting point that may come up later if Facebook decides to move forward with its own phone.

The flattery of Google+ 

Sandberg seemed to put down Google+, saying it was a form of imitation, which she called “flattering.” But she noted that Facebook is better positioned to win at social because that’s all it does.

“We’re very focused on creating social technology,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of competition but we think a company that is universally focused on one thing will do well.”

Sandberg also downplayed speculation that Facebook would get into advertising off its social network, something it has been asked about. She said it might be a good idea in the future but the company doesn’t have much room on its list of things to do right now.

Again, it seems like Facebook is choosing to pick its battles. Sandberg said Facebook wants to build itself into a long-term success, something she noted Google has become. But seven years into its existence, Facebook continues to preach a focused vision for itself. It may one day evolve into a sprawling company with a lot of interests similar to Google, but right now, it seems happy to be small and dedicated to its defined but still ambitious goal.

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