The Two Elephants in the Room: Google+ and Facebook

by Ken Mueller on July 4, 2011 · 46 comments

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 The Two Elephants in the Room: Google+ and Facebook

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All the buzz the past week has been about Google +, the search giant’s latest foray into social networking. I admit I haven’t spent a lot of time in there, but I’ve nosed around quite a bit, and so far I’d have to say I’m underwhelmed. And apparently I’m in the minority, because many of my friends, and a lot of the wiser Social Media pundits seem to be at least somewhat enamored with it, if not downright giddy about the potential of this new product.

But now it’s like there are two elephants in the room, Google+ and Facebook, and neither will acknowledge the existence of the other. Facebook is apparently poised to roll out the first major changes in a long time, and Google seems loathe to integrate Facebook into anything. Sadly, integration would help them both.

For Google, its two previous forays into social, Buzz and Wave, were less than stellar. Now with Google+, the search giant is trying to hit Facebook head on with a full blown social network. And while, as many point out, this is really a “beta” product and there will theoretically be a lot of tweaks and new features on the way.

Having said that, I’m still not impressed. I think the one who has best summarized my feelings is Mark Schaefer when he says that Google’s party is over before it starts. He makes a very strong point when he states that:

Facebook is not a website. It’s a lifestyle.

So true. We live, and breathe, and play, and work, on Facebook. To pick up and move, for most of us, would be a major deal. Additionally, I think he comes to his conclusions by wisely focusing on user behavior, rather than solely on the technology.

Here are a few of my early observations that lead me to believe that Google+ not only won’t be a Facebook killer, but might just go the way of Buzz and Wave:

1. Open vs. Closed – Facebook has spread across the web thanks to their open graph. Yes, Google has something similar with +1, but it’s not quite the same. Google+ seems to be a bit insular, confined mainly to the Google universe of products and services. I love my Gmail, Gchat, Google calendar, and Google reader. I love the way they function, but this new product isn’t exciting me. I’d rather see them focus more on spreading +1 across the web, much like Facebook has done with its like button.

2. Too segmented – As I was musing to Shonali Burke the other day, Google+ seems like Buzz on steroids. A bunch of disconnected conversations, or “streams” as they call them, that don’t really have a home. They just exist. Additionally, while some love the interface, I feel it lacks organization. Almost like a very segmented version of the Facebook newsfeed, without the benefit of an anchor. It’s hard to follow, even for this A.D.D. guy. And the profile pages aren’t very compelling. The entire interface feels rather clunky. The best feature is the ability to drag and drop, but i still don’t always know what I’m looking at. Granted, it takes time to learn a new interface, but this one seems a bit scattered.

3. Circles aren’t natural – I don’t believe that most of us segment our friends into nice neat little compartments. Again, this was something Shonali and I agree on, and I think my friend Marijean Jaggers put it well when she said she needed Venn diagrams. For me, I prefer to use my mental filters, rather than physical filters, to organize friends. Having said that, I think Facebook could strike back very easily by offering an easier drag and drop option for grouping friends, rather than their current list model which is time consuming and cumbersome. That one move would take a lot of the shine off of Google+ very quickly.

4. Age barriers – Most full-blown social networks, with the exception of perhaps Twitter, have started with a young audience, then grew older. My gut feeling on Google+ is that it will skew older immediately and will have very little allure to those under 25. I think that for any social network to survive, you’ll need to attract the younger demographics. I believe this is crucial for long-term survival. With Facebook, if you follow the rules, it’s become an automatic right of passage: you turn 13 and you get on Facebook. It’s something kids look forward to. I don’t see this happening for Google. In fact, I think the younger generation will avoid it.

5. Privacy issues – One of the biggest complaints people have about Facebook is regarding their privacy policy. I’m sorry, but I don’t really see it as an issue. In fact, I’ve even seen quite a few people lauding Google’s privacy with this new network. Guess what: Google knows far more about you than Facebook does, and Google+ is just one more platform for them to collect and use your information. No matter what privacy controls they put in place, don’t fool yourself into thinking that this new platform is truly private.

6. Can it grow fast enough? – The only way this new network works is if your friends show up. I have a feeling we will see a huge early rush to check it out, but, like Buzz, many will drift away. I’m already seeing a slowdown in activity because it seems rather one-dimensional. It just doesn’t even seem very social to me. Boring amplified is still boring. Unless your friends show up to the party, it’s not much of a party. I also have mixed feelings on the invite model. Remember when people were clamoring for Wave invites? Didn’t take long before you couldn’t find any more takers. In the early stages it might work well to generate interest, but the invite model can lead to increased expectations that will lead to disappointment, if those expectations go unmet.

7. Who the heck are these people, anyway? – My inbox has been inundated with emails of people contributing to conversations I was a part of, and some of them adding me to their circles. And I don’t know who many of them are! Apparently they know someone I know, but they aren’t my friends or even acquaintances. I know I can block them, and I’m sure if I played around with the privacy settings I could change this a bit, but again, it feels a lot like Buzz, or perhaps a bunch of LinkedIn discussion groups. Plus, many of the early adopters are firmly entrenched in the tech and social media realms. They tend to get excited about these things, but will the general public?

8. One house or two? – Do we need two big networks? I don’t think so. We’ve invested so much in Facebook that it would be a big investment of time, and learning, to make the switch. So then if we don’t switch, do we set up house and operate in two homes? I don’t think many of us will do this. And don’t compare it to the relationship between Twitter and Facebook, or even LinkedIn. They are all very different platforms with very different goals and features. I just don’t think the shiny new house at Google has enough to make me want to buy in…yet. Will someone topple Facebook someday? Probably, but right now it’s a juggernaut. Much more important than MySpace ever was, and with more than half of all Americans living on Facebook, they are in control.

9. Video Chat – A lot of people have been talking about how much they love the video chat function of Google+, which is a cool feature. However Facebook has been making noises about a stronger partnership with Skype, and could be launching an in-browser video component as early as this week. Since Skype is already in heavy use among many of us, this makes sense and since Skype is to video chat what Facebook is to Social Networks, the combination of the two could do a lot to keep people on Facebook.

 

So while I’m not ready to write Google+ off, I’m taking a wait and see attitude. I think the social realm has hit some point of happy, comfortable equilibrium, and any new entries into the field are going to have to knock our socks off out of the gate.

My advice to Google:

Stick to search. You’ve got a great thing going, and by further integrating social into search, you will continue to be leaps and bounds ahead of Bing and the other search engines. Creating a full blown social network probably isn’t the answer.

My advice to Facebook:

Listen to your users, and respond. You hold the cards, so learn from this and make adjustments. A more easily manipulated interface, perhaps with drag and drop features, would go a long way in maintaining your dominance. Continue to improve, but take this as a sign that you are vulnerable; you can be toppled. This is your first serious competitor, so take them seriously. Become a bit more responsive to your users, and you might be surprised how that helps you grow.

My advice to both of them:

Play nice. Look across the room. That other elephant could be a powerful ally. If Facebook and Google were to work together, there’s no telling what might happen. Supporting one anothers platforms would be huge. Stop pretending the other elephant doesn’t exist.

What are your feelings on Google+ so far? Do you love it? Hate it? Lukewarm? Do you think this could be the one to topple Facebook, or will it find it’s own niche?

 

 The Two Elephants in the Room: Google+ and Facebook
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43 comments
RichardHarrison
RichardHarrison

Well I finally managed to get a workable invitation to use G+! I was initially skeptical but I see a lot to like on this platform. For one the Circles are a major improvement over the FB lists and groups. They certainly cut down considerably on info pollution - a headache for me on FB. Recently I've found myself hiding out in a photography group I created just to avoid all the chatter from 600+ friends. I've tried hiding them but that doesn't really work all that well.

And the photo facility, while certainly not a major improvement from a display point of view, does add a lot of info that FB does not have and tightens up the tagging considerably. Plus it is integrated with Picasa, which continually improves in its own right.

So far for me the best part is Sparks, which allows me to not only list my interests but to rely on Google's search ability to find content that I can then share and build relationships upon. This is built into the site.

I haven't tried the Hangout or group Video Chat yet, but I'll get around to it.

Another worthwhile reason for anyone to have a G+ account is storage - It's like DropBox on steroids. Establish an account and you'll immediately acquire 7GB of free cloud storage, which, assuming you're not chronically paranoid, is a great deal!

Finally, something I haven't heard much about from anyone is a tool Google calls Data Liberation. If you decide you don't like the place you can use it to collect all your personal marbles and leave. FB will allow you to delete your account and it also has (or had) a tool that allows you to download a copy of everything you ever posted. (I did that once; God it was depressing!) But in other respects it's Hotel California.

They have a ways to go, especially in underwriting business accounts - and I run both personal and business pages on FB - but I think these guys are onto something. Can't wait for the iPhone app. I might abandon FB - or pair my use down - but I'm not about to go Android :)

kimmolinkama
kimmolinkama

I can understand why many people doubt Google+'s chances, but at least there's one good thing about Circles. If your friends are in different countries and speak different languages, the opportunity to group them is certainly a trump over Facebooks single-stream approach. (I recently blogged about this at http://bit.ly/qkPEun - hope you don't mind the link.)

There's also this: Although "everybody is on Facebook", the same everybody are already using Google. If they can provide a seamless integration between their tools, I think Google+ might develop into something interesting.

It's also true that both Facebook and Google would benefit enormously if they could find a way to cooperate.

TomRedwine
TomRedwine

Well written; however, I don't agree with your conclusions. In fact, I'm not sure I agree with anyone's conclusions yet, because G+ is still in it's infancy, while FB has somewhat matured as a platform. Also, FB is not a lifestyle, it's a platform. So is Google. Twitter is trying awfully hard to become a platform.

It'll come down to the participants. Some folks will be drawn to one type of social network, others will be drawn to another. We may not know for some time which one will become the most popular, but I really don't believe that matters in the long run, what matters is who's participating in the conversation and how you choose to engage them. I'm keeping my options open.

KDillabough
KDillabough

Excellent post. Cannot chase one more shiny penny. It's wait and watch and see for me. Even thinking about it makes my head hurt. Cheers! Kaarina

Brankica
Brankica

I personally will not get into any predictions yet, because I don't think I would do a good analysis. I do hope Google+ stays active and takes some from Facebook just so FB would have a real competitor.

The thing I don't agree with it #7. People add you to follow you and hear what you have to say. You don't have to share everything publicly so they won't see everything you post. This feature is something like Twitter as far as following goes. Do you know everyone following you on Twitter and adding you to Twitter lists? I don't. So I don't see a problem with people adding me to circles, it doesn't mean I have to add them to mine.

Great post though :)

markwschaefer
markwschaefer

Really a superb post Ken. Thanks for this comprehensive round-up!

RichardHarrison
RichardHarrison

Sight (site :) ) unseen I'm with you. There is simply no need for another Facebook-like social network so long as FB remains relatively responsive to its base and from where I sit it has. This might be good for competition but only from the "scare them a bit" angle. The investment we all have in FB is simply too large to consider going elsewhere for anything less than an order of magnitude change in scope of service and +1 ain't it. What we have here is two very large and comptent but arrogant entities that indeed need to learn how to coexist with one another. They could accomplish much that way. As is they're simply work for the tech press and early adopter junkies, neither camps of which has any particular impact upon or grasp of reality.

Good review!

Social SEO Consultant
Social SEO Consultant

Its still too early in the game to claim a victor or whether G+ will capture any significant market share from Facebook. The Buzz on the .Net is certainly helping their cause, that's for sure.

In this 1st edition, the G+ Huddles and Hangouts and Spikes and Circles all seem to have the right moving parts for sharing content w/ select people in your social circle, so long as the privacy issues hold their own.

What I'm looking for is how G+ packages and renders a Facebook Fan "site" type web asset? Facebook moved from FBML to iFrame for many reasons. Now, there's a gads of iFrame Facebook site builder app guys hawking all kinds of DIY and recurring monthly fee models.

If Google+ enables Mr. SMB to showcase his value prop w/out the hefty design/build/deploy fees like North Social, WildFire, Hubze currently offer on FB, then the playing become much more level - much more quickly. Rapid adoption will likely happen.

leerdustin
leerdustin

I'm intrigued by Google+ and yet still skeptical if it can really go anywhere. Google's track record in the social media realm has been less than stellar. Wave was cool it just took to long to get it off the ground, Buzz was less than a goof imitation of Twitter. I really believe that if Google+ is going to make it, Google needs to bring something new and innovative to the table.

Now I don't have any first hand knowledge of Google+, but from the screen shots I've seen I believe it is just a cleaner looking Facebook. Not even sure what code it runs on, is it PHP, HTML + CSS this would be a huge deal for me as I am more of a designer than social media guru. I love social media and favor Twitter over Facebook & Linkedin. Now they all kind of have their places in the social media ecosystem and they play well together for the most part, but Google just seems to want to control the space themselves. If any one does have any free invites one would be appreciated so I could have a better grasp on the subject of Google+.

TheJackB
TheJackB

I haven't seen it yet so I can't comment on what I think of it, but I am curious. You are right about privacy issues and Google having a ton of information about us, but they aren't as "in your face" about it as FB. That is probably nothing more than my own perception but it does leave a bad taste in my mouth. Your idea of Google and FB playing together sounds nice but strikes me as being similar to watching two toddlers play together with a toy. If it happens it doesn't last long and someone always ends up in tears.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

You know what I think? I think the social media pundits claim they're excited about it because people expect it. I felt guilty writing today that I am underwhelmed by it and I don't see it's value. I also find it interesting that everyone who is giddy about it (with the exception of you) is male. Scoble is giddy about it. But he was giddy about Quora and then he changed his mind. It's the shiny new penny syndrome. Either it will stick and people will like it or it will go the way of Buzz and Wave and the pundits will change their mind. The fact is, it's still too early to form an opinion.

SarahLanphier
SarahLanphier

I just signed up for Google+ and can't figure out how to import my Gmail contacts... Yahoo and Hotmail no problem... but no Gmail?

I agree, it is going to be extremely difficult for Google to provide enough value to convince a large majority of Facebook users to jump ship.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@RichardHarrison Thanks for the update and the info, Richard. I love hearing about everyone else's experiences. I'm hearing a lot of positives, but still haven't experienced them myself. I still find myself mostly drawn to Facebook and Twitter for the most part, but we'll see what happens!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@kimmolinkama Thanks for stopping by and adding your two cents. Where I would disagree is that Facebook has had the ability to group your friends for quite some time, it's just not...easy. Google's Circles is a great model for how to do it right. (and no, don't mind the link at all!)

And I don't agree that the same everybody is already using Google. They might be using the search engine, but a lot of them aren't using G-mail, or Google reader. I've invited a lot of friends who do not have Google profiles, and they are hesitant to join.

We'll just have to see how it shakes out!

KDillabough
KDillabough

@TomRedwine Hey Tom: hope you got my response to your kind invitation. As indicated, I don't have gmail, and as per what I said below, I'm not ready for any new shiny penny headaches. I'm with you on the "I'm keeping my options open." Good call. Cheers! kaarina

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Brankica Thanks, Brankica. I think the whole issue of how privacy works on Google+ is going to be a big issue. We need to remember this is Google. There business is to gather information about us and our activities. This is just one more way they can do that. Those who believe Google doesn't have the privacy issues of Facebook are in for a rude awakening, I believe.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@RichardHarrison thanks, Richard. It would be interesting to see how they could peacefully coexist, but on the other hand, a true partnership between the two could be kinda scary!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@leerdustin A lot of people think it's a cleaner look, Dustin, but not as far as I'm concerned. I think it looks sloppy. And it doesn't matter what platform it runs on really, because I doubt it will ever allow any real customization.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@TheJackB I honestly think Facebook's privacy issues are seriously overblown. You are in control of your own privacy, and Facebook gives you all the tools you need to lock things down.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich Most of the pundits keep saying "it's in beta, it's a work in progress, give it time". For my money, a beta needs more than this to make me want to stick around. There is absolutely nothing there that makes me want to a) leave Facebook and move over, or b) keep Facebook and ALSO use Plus. There is nothing new and exciting enough there. I'll keep an eye on it, and perhaps I'll be wrong, but it just bores the snot out of me.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@SarahLanphier Sarah, I think Gmail, since they are both Google products, is already built into plus. Your initial potential connections should come from Gmail, or at least I think that's how it worked for me. Play around a bit. I'm curious what your thoughts are after awhile. I'm starting to see more people writing about how wonderful it is. Still hasn't changed my mind though.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@KDillabough @TomRedwine I guess the one point where I would disagree is that while Facebook is a platform, it HAS become a lifestyle for many, and has become fully integrated into the regular daily routine for many of us.

TheJackB
TheJackB

I use FB regularly so I am familiar with it and relatively proficient at using it. That being said they have a habit of changing settings without providing much information/notice about it. If you don't pay attention it is not so unusual to find that your settings have been "adjusted" so that your information is suddenly visible to people who you'd rather not see it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@KenMueller One thing I really, really like about Circles is I can click on one of mine and see ONLY the posts from the people I have in there. And I also have the opportunity to organize it in a way I know will make sense because of my experience with Twitter and Facebook. But the pros don't outweigh the cons...yet.

SarahLanphier
SarahLanphier

@KenMueller I see the suggestions but I don't see where I can import all of my contacts on a massive scale like in the other social media platforms. There is NO WAY I am going to go through the 2,000 contacts I have on Gmail and invite them individually. If Google wants users they are going to have to make it easy for people to merge their lists.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Brankica @SarahLanphier @TheJackB I think the big issue will be IF this new elephant actually does eat fewer peanuts and leave less poop. We need to remember: Google is Google. Before Facebook, they were the one we all complained about. Will certainly be interesting!

TheJackB
TheJackB

@Brankica @KenMueller @SarahLanphier Brankica, you outlined my issue very nicely. They are so big they do what they want without fear of consequence. I don't think that makes them customer centric nor do I get the feeling that they care what people think. It irks me.

Brankica
Brankica

@KenMueller @SarahLanphier @TheJackB Sure you can decide not to share some stuff but I, for example, moved to USA from Europe. It was easier to put my cell phone on my profile so my friends have it, than try to inform each and every one of them. That still doesn't mean I want everyone to see it, just because FB changed some settings.

I am pretty much annoyed with FB as far as some of their changes go. I understand they are a money making company and the income comes first, but I have yet to see them actually ask their users what they would like. They just change stuff and expect you to go along. Which we do.

I also understand we can just leave FB never to come back. But it is too big not to use it so most of us are bound to do what ever they want. Because they had no competition.

But if there is a new elephant in town that eats less peanuts and leaves less poop on the ground, maybe the old elephant will start behaving nicer to its users.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@SarahLanphier @TheJackB That's when you just decide not to put the info on there in the first place. And Facebook has learned a lot form their mistakes, the last time they made privacy changes, they were opt-in, not opt out, and most people didn't even notice.

SarahLanphier
SarahLanphier

@TheJackB I concur! My cell phone number was visible for about 2 months without me knowing. It was really disturbing.

Brankica
Brankica

@ginidietrich @KenMueller You don't have to block them, all you need to do is choose who you share your stuff with. So instead of choosing "public" for example, choose to share with a circle. That way you can share cool posts with "bloggers" circle and personal photos with "friends" circle.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich Maybe you can "block" them, but then you end up using all of your time blocking people. I just think it's a lot of work, and honestly, most of this stuff CAN be done in FB if you know how

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@KenMueller No, I totally agree. That's why I said the pros don't outweigh the cons. I don't know how to filter out people I don't want to see. Or to not have people I don't know commenting on my posts.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich But...don't you also see a lot of comments from others who aren't your friends, but are their friends? And then they add you to circles. I don't have that on Facebook. And right now, wow, the discussions on Plus are incredibly boring. It just feels like Buzz to me.

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