The great debate is on; which is better, Google Plus or Facebook?
Unlike other web services battles where two tech behemoths go head to head in all out war and nobody outside of the tech elite even notice, this one is special because nearly one billion internet users will have an opinion that will count. That’s how many of us actually use a social network as part of their daily lives. (Admittedly, most of them are on Facebook.)
Just a few short years ago the term “social network” wasn’t any more understood than E=MC2; most of us would recognise the letters but the concept went over our heads. Now though, with exponential growth in user adoption, so many of us in ordinary-users land are going to Facebook for our personal lives, and increasingly for business activities, making us all knowledgeable in some way as to what the term means.
The social network universe as we know it today has Facebook as its god emperor in the middle looking down on competitor web services like they are so many ants crawling over sandals. And as if this isn’t enough power and glory Hollywood even went out and made a movie about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, that itself went on to become a big hit and push FB (and Zuckerberg) to even greater divine heights. How many movies do you know of where Bill Gates or Larry Ellison are the plucky heroes battling the odds to succeed? None! That’s how much the world gives a shit about Microsoft and Oracle stuff. But FB is different and it seriously looks like they are untouchable and will remain so until our sun starts to die.
The thing is though when you’re the big social network guy on the block some other big guy is going to want to take you on. This is particularly true for Google who as a company literally came out of nowhere with just a search engine 10 odd years ago and then went on to dominate the new frontier of global consumer cloud based web services. They got used to taking on the biggest tech companies, and winning. So much so, they even won a coveted “Microsoft killer” badge – from industry watchers – that other big companies had been trying to get for years (Oracle, Sun and IBM, just to name a few). They weren’t that used to loosing, and the fact that their first version social network Orkut got beaten, then crushed and buried by Facebook did not sit well with Google’s top boys. (Or so I read, since neither Larry Page, Sergey Brin, or Eric Schmidt ever returned my phone calls to discuss the matter personally). So what do you do when you’re Google and you want to dominate a tech area? Simple; you throw money and talent at it until you do.
Enter Vic Gundotra, a top dog at Google and his hand picked team of design and engineering talent. Their job was to build a Facebook killer, and its name was *drum roll* Google Plus (cue *big let down*). Fair enough, it doesn’t sound much like a cool social network name, like Friendster, or Hipster, but then the name came from Vic wanting to show that their social network is so important to the company it’s considered to be an extension of Google itself. Lofty idea, still a sucky sounding name.
So how do they stack up side by side? I’ve read so many articles on this recently that I wanted to write one of my own. Why? Well because most of the ones I read were pretty much crap, and had less of an understanding than the Westboro Baptist church does about social tolerance towards others. The good articles I found were quite informative but were also heavily biased, which isn’t surprising given they were written by tech savy early adopters. I figured the world could use an unbiased opinion as much as the Greek could use another billion Euro in economic aid, so here we go.
Facebook: all about friends; here today, here tomorrow.
Google Plus: all about rampant link sharing from geeks; fad today, gone tomorrow?
You might now be thinking, is that it? Well, pretty much. But let’s take look at it in a bit more wordy detail.
What is it that pops into your head when I ask you to think about “Facebook”? I’m betting it’s a whole lot of social stuff; friends, friends photos, friends events, and a bunch of stuff you hate about FB privacy because everyone hates FB privacy rules and they way they keep changing stuff. Fair enough too, some of their policy decisions truly do walk on the face of their loyal users. However you are really in touch with FB because it puts you in touch with your friends and family, your common every day friends and family most of whom probably aren’t geeks, and don’t care about geek stuff. The only thing that matters to you about Facebook is that it puts you in touch with people, and keeps you in touch with people you care about.
Now, let’s do the same thing for Google Plus, what do you think about when I ask you to think about Google Plus? Chances are nothing, unless you’re a high end tech geek, in which case you’ll start thinking about all the interesting tech stuff that goes on under the hood of the application itself. It’s really not about the people. From a tech perspective, it’s shiny, fast and built using the very cutting edge of web development tools and processes today. Geeks have adopted Google Plus in the same way ducks have adopted water; the two were made for each other.
My personal experiences are like this; on FB I get a lot of posts from friends about their lives, on Google Plus I get a lot of posts about tech from a wide network of geeks. It has become a replacement for Twitter in that respect because previously that’s where all those kinds of posts used to turn up. I’d probably go as far as saying, Google Plus is really a social network for geeks, one that they can feel all superior about because it’s not used by the unwashed ungeek masses.
Okay, so that’s a bunch of personal opinion, but anecdotal evidence I’ve painstakingly researched (drinking beers in bars with random strangers asking them whether they use Facebook or Google Plus) suggests that unless there is a huge cultural shift in global perception regarding FB, noone is going to move. And the answer for that is simple; it’s not the tech that matters, it’s the network, it’s the people. Sure, Google Plus is a superior service when you look at it from an engineering perspective. Maybe they even respect your privacy more, who knows? (It’s actually hard to tell, so I don’t think anyone can make that call definitively) But if you’ve got 200 friends on Facebook, and 10 on Google Plus, and nobody will move over, well you’re not going to either. For the social butterfly class of people 200 friends is probably what they added last weekend after a party, I’ve seen accounts with upwards of 3000 friend connections. I got no idea why people need to have that many friends in a social network other than they are compensating for being desperately lonely individuals with bipolar disorder, or they are out and out social network sluts. Understanding aside, that’s a big commitment to a network and, in turn, the social network service itself.
So what does that mean for Google Plus in the long run? Hard to say because the winds of web services fortunes blow with you one month and against you the next. Consumers of these services are a fickle picky lot, they want something familiar and friendly but they also need their craving for shiny new bling satisfied as well. The only thing you can say for certain is, Facebook right now doesn’t need to worry, noone is really going to leave them, users may flirt with another service but most of them are committed to FB. Google Plus, I think, if it’s going to go anywhere needs to get off its geek high horse and start adding in stuff to attract ordinary users, like stupid farming games, and mafia wars lookalikes. I hate those games and every one like them but when they came out they took off in popularity in a way that defied gravity and understanding from all the experts in the games industry. Until you start catering for the other classes, you’re not going to win any hearts and minds from their camp.
In the end, maybe this is also how the tech world likes it, Facebook people on one side and Google Plus folks on the other. There is a neat divide like there is between Windows and Mac users, or even better, Windows and Linux users. For years the cry from a majority of users to build a desktop for Linux that would rival Microsoft has been shouted at from one corner of their camp to not bother, they enjoy the fact that Windoze users are on their side of a fence and they don’t want them on theirs! I hear sentiments like this from Google Plus tech elitists who want the same kind of fence erected, something like what Israel put up along its border with the Palestinian territories. That way everyone will stay where they are, and life will be happy. They don’t want the service dumbed down and made into another Facebook, there already is one, and there isn’t a need for another.
I guess if I was to use my crystal ball and stare off into the future, I would say that Google Plus won’t be the big thing in social networks that they are hoping. There just isn’t anything there to bring people in. No, rather I think the next big thing in social networks is going to be something we haven’t seen yet. Some upstart young kid in a dorm room who quietly goes about building something amazing, that nobody will hear about for a long time, and then suddenly it will be everywhere, and all the journos will say how noone saw this coming.
Sound familiar? It should, you’ve seen the movie after all.
The Facebook vs Google Plus; my take on it by Mentalechoes, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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