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The ever-escalating battle between Facebook and Google Plus for social networking supremacy has reached a new level of competition in recent days. Facebook has revealed their next slew of changes that includes an overhaul of user profiles with the new Timeline profile, their new Open Graph API, and the ticker. Google Plus has finally made their social network available to everyone, gotten hangouts onto mobile phones, and allowed big audiences to view hangouts (beyond the maximum of ten people actually hanging out).
For the first time ever Facebook has serious competition (well, not too serious) and it has forced them to really think about the service they offer. On the other hand, Google jumped into the game years after Facebook established dominance and it has forced them to act quickly and to be innovative in their approach to social networking. However, I believe Facebook is going to either: 1) smother Google+ because they are simply THAT big, 2) force Google+ to reconsider their target market and become more of a niche social network, or 3) simply just stop worrying about Google+ and keep doing their own thing.
While the social networks continue to change, adapt, update, and fight for users’ time and money it will only stand to benefit us users. The recent changes made to both Facebook and Google+ make both networks easier and more fun to use, but I think Facebook really “gets” it better than Google+ and their recent changes show that.
How will these changes benefit you (the user) in the long run? Social networking is becoming something more than just a way to keep in touch with friends and stalk people you met the night before at a party. Facebook, and at some point Google+, is becoming a social aggregator that takes everything you do and puts it all into one place. It is the ultimate sharing tool. The new Open Graph technology is incredible. From personal experience (and some insane numbers) the new API is going to brush off everyone’s complaints about privacy and turn the internet into a cohesive community that shares everything. (And let’s be honest here, if you complain about your information being shared, DON’T put it on the internet in the first place, because it isn’t just Facebook and Google tracking you.)
Connecting with your friends now brings you more than status updates, relationship status changes, and photos. You now can see what your friends are listening to/watching/doing and choose to listen to/watch/participate in real time with the click of your mouse. It’s amazing to share so much with friends. There will always be people terrified of sharing so much, but in the end it develops relationships with people which is what social networking is really all about.
When Google+ first released my initial thought was that they tried to combine the best of everything into one network. They had Facebook’s layout (almost identical), Twitter’s real-time sharing capabilities, and Google is connecting all of their services as well. Seems like it would be a perfect storm to attract users. Instead Google+ is still floundering (or close to it), with not many active users. However, Facebook is learning from Google’s mistakes (that they made trying to learn from Facebook…it’s a vicious cycle), and creating one hell of a social network. They’ve add “Subscribe” which is their version of Twitter’s “Follow.” They are making friend lists easier to make and update…and are auto-populating lists for you! Which is something Google+ didn’t do with Circles (big mistake). They are banking on the nostalgia the scrapbook-esque Timeline will bring to users. And it’s going to do well. Users will hate the change, then get used to it, then love it. Just watch.
The competition that Google+ has started (for lack of a better word, because they can’t technically compete with Facebook right now), is the best thing that could have happened for us users. Facebook is now making changes that benefit us and aren’t just layout and design changes. The user experience is getting prettier, more intuitive, and more fun. We have a lot to look forward to. And I can’t wait.
Since the day I created my Google+ account I have stood fast, almost too strongly, against the idea that Google+ will become something great. I wrote about why it will fail, and some idea on how it could succeed back in July and so far, I haven’t been too far off.
The release of the Google+ Suggested Users list is another notch in Google’s “We can’t compete in social” belt. A great idea, in theory, the suggested users list seems like it would help people get acquainted with certain features of G+ while also following the people who know the social network the best. The problem is that the feature is not ready to be released yet. It is still primitive. It will list Robert Scoble, a prominent tech blogger, in the same place as Paris Hilton. See a problem there?
One of the biggest issues I’ve seen over the last couple of months in regards to Google+ is how eager Google is to contribute to the social landscape. As a result of this eagerness they have begun releasing features that are not yet ready to be released, always with “the ability to <insert how feature can be improved here> is on its way,” in the metaphorical fine print. When a feature is released I expect there to be bugs and problems. But when a suggested user list is released I expect to see users that make sense to me. Right now I have Taylor Swift (don’t own a single track of hers), Tom the MySpace guy (seriously?), and Dolly Parton (okay, that one made me laugh).
And the problem of releasing features that don’t do what they are, in theory, expected to do isn’t restricted to just the suggested users list. It has affected Circles (here is a point of view I’ve shared since the beginning about Circles) as well. Google is the world’s leader in search (and collecting personal data of EVERYONE), and they have yet to include great search in their own social network. What is going on?
A “too little, too late” type of thing is occurring for Google+, with its inability to keep registered users active (last I checked less than 20% of users were inactive), releasing unfinished features, and a lack of understanding with what users really want (and stating that Google+ is essentially FOR Google, not for the users). While I don’t see a great future for Google+ as an overall social network, I do hope it succeeds somehow. Whether that is as a business-centric social network (a la Linkedin), or something else remains to be seen, but I do hope it results in something that helps consumers.
Every Thursday at Engauge we have something called Technology Thursdays. Recently the format has changed to lightning talks, meaning three speakers get five minutes each to present anything they would like. These talks are led by the developers of the agency, and have covered topics such as Amazon’s Cloud Servers, our @engaugebeercart Android app, and many more. Yesterday one of the topics that came up is Google+. Now, working at a marketing agency that prides itself on its social media expertise, Google+ has been a hot topic the last few weeks. We’ve had 30 minute meetings about the potential of the new social network turn into 90 minute debates/discussions, and we all have our own opinions on how well we think it will succeed.
Here’s my opinion: Google Plus, being a well put together platform, has a chance at being something…it certainly has no chance at being a Facebook killer. Since day one I’ve been very anti-“Facebook killer mentality.” It is the wrong mentality for Google+ to go in thinking that they can compete with a social network that can harness the power of ~15% of the world’s population. This isn’t a David vs. Goliath scenario either, where the little guy might just be faster and smarter and can compete, this is a small (yes, it is still small) social network trying to compete against a juggernaut that his been fully integrated via Facebook Connect.
Now, when I say “fail” I don’t mean it will disappear and become another Google Buzz or Wave, but that it will fail at being a social network for the masses like Facebook is. Right now there is no solid “hook” for people to switch from Facebook to Google+. Unless you don’t use Facebook at all, or purely hate the service, you don’t have a reason to leave right now. So what are the “hooks” that people say will get users to switch? Circles, Hangouts, and Sparks. Here are the reasons why these aren’t enough, and why they may not be all they are cracked up to be:
Two out of the three big features of Google+ don’t have much merit considering there are much better alternatives to them that take little time to use. The problem is that Facebook has almost a decade of experience under their belt, a massive user base, and the tools to help both consumers and businesses utilize their platform in countless ways. It’s the norm. People say that Google+ is more user-friendly and intuitive…at this point Facebook IS what is intuitive. Why do you think the Google+ interface is so similar to Facebook? People are “hacking” their profiles just like everyone did with Facebook a couple months ago.
So what should Google do in order to make Google+ successful? Become the de facto business social network. Yes, Linkedin has been playing that role admirably, but there is a very small amount of actual interaction on Linkedin. It’s a great recruiting tool, and for most people my age (I’m 23) it is little more than an online resume that you can link your blog, twitter, and Facebook accounts up to. When Google+ first launched while in “beta” I immediately, and somewhat prematurely, said that they should buy/partner with Linkedin and create the ultimate business tool. While this is unlikely, it was a split second thought that got me thinking.
Google+ should focus on the business vertical within social networking rather than trying to compete with Facebook. Google is exceptional at business and search. They have proven this time and time again, so they should play to those strengths. Say I’m looking for a job, I can create circles (with the added functionality I’ve talked about above) that include all the recruiters I’ve spoken to about positions, I can have my resume easily accessible, along with my Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. Google can incorporate their other services like Gmail, Docs, and Reader into this social network to make sharing incredibly easy from a business perspective. The data Google has accumulated about everyone who has used their services over the years is invaluable, and will be more extensive than what you can get from Facebook at the moment.
What everyone needs to realize is that Facebook has laid too strong of a foundation to be replaced at the moment. Google’s best bet is to concentrate on what part of the social game and become established within that. Once they have gained confidence that they can (finally!) do social the right way, then they can start reaching out towards the mainstream crowd that Facebook has a tight hold on. Until then, they should focus on what they know best.