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Google+ and Facebook Observations July 12, 2011

Posted by Brian Link in Internet culture, socialmedia.
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Jason Calcanis recently sent out an email asking for some feedback on Google+, so I took the time to reply.  Thought I’d post it here as well since there seems to be no shortage of discussions around the topic. It’s hard to get a really good summary of the issues and salient differences though, but it’s out there.  Here’s a quick attempt to round up some of the discussion:

1. Is Google+ better than Facebook? If so, why?

You’ll undoubtedly get a mixed result of answers to this question. The average user won’t be able to tell the difference, once they take a close look. But the subtleties will matter to us geek users. Three topics matter: Sharing, Privacy and Integration.

SHARING: You might love circles, for example (even though almost everyone I talk to or read on G+ doesn’t realize that Facebook actually still has better functionality here, they just don’t have the beautiful drag n drop UI. You can share or consume through friend lists or circles on either platform but you still can’t *exclude* circles from an update on G+).  Google has clearly brought some much needed attention to the creating and using of friend lists when sharing, which I’m happy about, but users who care do this on Facebook already. [Google wins the perception battle due to the fancy circles UI, but I think Facebook still wins, mostly because of the next topic – privacy – when it comes to sharing]

PRIVACY: So, to get even more granular in the sharing topic is the public vs. public debate. Strangers can jump into your conversation on G+ which some people like, but would scare the crap out of people less techie (or less Twitter-aware) over on Facebook who love their little walled gardens.  Google is encouraging more public sharing and people with large follow lists get a ton more engagement (which is great for the big geek early adopters, which is why folks like Scoble really like Google+ and Kevin Rose has redirected kevinrose.com to point to his Google+ stream) but Google clearly has an issue with privacy and I suspect news like this MSNBC article will continue to spread. [Facebook wins the privacy game, oddly by not making it front and center, but rather a de-facto walled garden of who you’ve friended – you just need to make sure you’re actually friending people you know!]

INTEGRATION: So people tout the google tie-ins that exist already (the sandbar, upcoming gmail integration and how easy you can bounce into G+ from an iGoogle home page) and the fact that many people are already in google apps; this will undoubtedly help tie together all Google services. If you’re a googler, this may be super compelling. Facebook has its hooks in people for many other reasons too. Not just the friend list lock-in (which is reason enough for the 40+ demographic to stay put I think) and the fact that Facebook doesn’t want you to take your contact list with you (see here and here). But the ubiquitous “log in with Facebook” and all those apps people have already authenticated is not going to change anytime soon. OAuth through Google will also be a factor, but I think the mainstream is already much more comfortable with those little Facebook pop-up login windows. And do you know anyone playing Zynga games? Yeah, they’re not going anywhere either. [Google is a strong contender here, but many people will not be leaving Facebook due to the various social lock-in factors.  This particular point is soon to be moot however, as people will soon learn how to connect their Google+, Facebook and Twitter all together at least for sharing and consuming their big streams, cross-posting everything everwhere even to LinkedIn. Many users will end up using both just as many of my friends use Twitter and Facebook equally today. The real trick will be if some new player can create a true friend-list syncher that keeps your circles, Facebook friend lists and Twitter lists all straight and privacy settings included]

2. Is it possible that Google+ could compete with Facebook?

It will, because it appears clean and open and everyone uses Google. But I wonder if the privacy concerns don’t hamper it’s growth beyond the early adopters and hardcore Googlers.  (And I wonder if some of the fresh and new wears off after extra noise from brands and spammers and too many people crowd into the network.  I’ve been playing with Google+ with the early adopter crowd which was kinda nice, but I wonder what it’ll be like once there’s many more people.  Pretty sure I’ll need to prune my follow lists and spend way too much time cleaning up my circles.)

Scoble has said it will be wildly popular with the geeks, and that might be enough of a success. Many millions will “just try it” and get hooked. But once it becomes easier to hook up all your networks and share once and engage everywhere (much like people send their streams to friendfeed or twitter into facebook) it doesn’t really matter, does it?

3. Facebook: buy, sell or hold at $100B market cap?

I thought 80B was pretty huge. But those secondmarket sales keep rising… The more interesting story to me is the non-public markets and whether Facebook has a chance of evolving that drastically, more than they already have. I wonder if they don’t ever go public, just stir up the pot and tease us that they will – then go crazy with the secondmarket where they and the employees can control demand.

4. You can only have one, pick now: Facebook, Twitter or Google+?

There is no need to pick one 🙂 But if I personally could only share (and engage) on one it’d be Twitter because I have the largest audience there, including a wide variety of my friends. But Twitter isn’t as personal – and if I really thought about the most meaningful conversations to me, not just link-sharing and banter, I might just pick Facebook instead, because it’s a more comfortable environment where I know exactly who’s consuming my messages.

5. Any other observations two weeks

Huge hype deflated after invites became less scarce – I wonder how many people will try it once then bounce because their graph isn’t in G+. Most main streamers, I suspect. If you’re Facebook-only and don’t dabble enough with Twitter, then Google+ won’t appeal to you that much. It takes a little more savvy to figure out how to really navigate and control your signal to noise on Google+ – which is exactly how the bitheads at Google think, so I don’t suspect they’ll change that too much. Facebook will always cater to the lowest common person and focus on simplicity. They’ve tucked away their privacy controls because most people don’t care – the same people who’d freak out if a stranger started commenting on a public message in their stream… and they will blissfully stay ignorant in their Facebook walled garden.

My conclusion is that Google has created a very surprising and impressive social network with explosive growth that will capture a large part of the market, but there are hundreds of millions that are going nowhere on Facebook.  Personally, I think it’s great that we have a new network and I’m glad that Google finally got a social solution with some traction (RIP Buzz, Wave, etc.) but I won’t be using it extensively.  Time, ultimately, is the biggest opponent to a newcomer even if you’re Google… I just don’t have the time or inclination to setup the synchronizing/reposting strategy to be able to span both and its too easy to just keep doing what I’m doing.

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