Facebook and Google are very similar and different, depending on the perspective and context. But the only real difference that matters today boils down to leadership.

In reading that Facebook changed its mind in Australia, I will let others discuss the minutiae. People ask me all the time about platforms, I tend to answer that platforms are like Animal Farm: they are all equal but some are more equal than others. Sure, some can say that Google punches you in the gut while Facebook can stab you in the back, but fundamentally when you build a business on a platform, that comes with the territory.

Of course as the incumbent in the open web domain, it tends to operate in opaque ways at times, but fundamentally, Google’s DNA is in

  • sending out traffic, and over time growing its reach as a result.
  • sharing revenues with publishers via AdSense/AdWords, and grow its fortunes in tandem.

Over the years, Google has built a dominating position in search and video.

Facebook, meanwhile is the master of social, and parallels to AOL.com’s early days as a closed, walled garden are not myopic.

Both are our partners. While YouTube was seen as pariah by others, we deemed it our favored nation as “trading partner.” We envisioned greatness for Facebook, but its sprawling business meant it de-emphasized video, which created an opening for Span. But today, Facebook is striking back, powering it video ambitions thanks to its soaring fortunes.

But these are all small nuances. The true difference lies in the mindset of a Mercenary vs that of a Missionary. Over at Google, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have moved on from operational roles. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is a tremendous executive; YouTube CEO Susan Wocjicki deserves much praise for how she has navigated the landscape amidst copyright, freedom of speech, platform responsibility & liability, brand-safety, community, social repercussions, and more. But to both, while I am sure they are “on” 24/7, it’s just a job.

Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. Over fifteen years later, his operational and legal control over Facebook is impressive or daunting, depending on who you ask. Zuck founded Facebook to rank his female classmates at Harvard, but over time, his creation found traction in an ever-increasing social world, and his journey led him to rule the earth, effectively. He probably didn’t set out to achieve Wealth & Power, but throughout the adventure, he did. When Procter & Gamble’s CMO calls YouTube and says: “we don’t like this Tide Pod business,” YouTube reacts. Facebook doesn’t. When I have said that Zuckerberg is the love child of Lex Luther and Darth Vader, it’s a compliment from one entrepreneur to another, and a biographer of such builders. The force is strong with him.

Sure his resistance may lead to an ad boycott, but that doesn’t really put much of a dent in Mark’s business, and over time, he’s learned to emerge stronger as a result. In the eternal struggle between Good & Evil, he’s written his own rules to determine what’s good and what’s evil (whereas Google dropped the “Do No Evil” tagline, which raised a whole other set of questions).

Ultimately, to Zuck, each dispute is a greater struggle, with far different stakes. He will go down in hand-to-hand combat if he must.

That’s the single greatest difference a company run by an executive vs one run by a founder.