Got you on the title for a second, didn't I? With all the buzz (har har) surrounding Google+ lately, there's been near endless speculation about whether the new social network will have what it takes to "defeat" its biggest competitor: Facebook. In fact, it seems taken for granted that Google+ and Facebook are like oil and water - two things that simply cannot co-exist in harmony. As you may have guessed from my title, I think this is an absolutely silly discussion. Let's talk about just why that is.
Well, there's not really "two internets." But for the purpose of our discussion here, I'm going to characterize Facebook and Google as two separate "internets" (or, if you will - interwebs).
On the "Facebook internet," there's a certain user demographic. Namely, everyone and their brother, aunt, grandma, second cousin twice removed, and anyone with access to and who is able to use a computer. Facebook has done what no social network before it could - it has fostered a community that is actually representative of almost all (literate) age groups, income levels (to an extent), and cultures. Generally speaking, where there is an internet, Facebook is a part of that internet. Except China. But that's a whole other thing.
Google, as a search engine, is equally (actually, slightly less in terms of traffic) omnipresent. But Google doesn't enjoy that kind of popularity with any other service. Gmail? As of June, it's still playing third string to Yahoo! Mail and Windows Live Mail based on web traffic. Sounds ridiculous to an Android user, right? Remember, less than half of American adults own smartphones (38%, to be precise). Of those, about 38% use Android devices. That means about 14.5% of American adults use Android phones. Of those, only a percentage actually use Gmail.
In fact, I was in a bar the other day and saw some guy holding a brand-new EVO 3D, and the guy next to him was using a DROID X. I asked him how he liked the phone, and both he and the guy next to him immediately started harping on Android's "crappy push e-mail" (which they had apparently been discussing). I was understandably perplexed - Gmail push is lightning quick. But no, they were referring to POP3 accounts - Yahoo and Hotmail, particularly. Yep, people own Android devices without using Gmail for anything but activating their phone out of the box. It's a sad, strange world.
But to get back on track - this goes to show just how much we as Android enthusiasts overestimate Google's influence on how the average person interacts with the web. Sure, for search, they're the reigning champs - everyone uses Google sometimes. That's the Google internet. But for everything else Google offers? You've got to be a bit of a geek, or just a plain Google diehard. And those people are but a fraction of that "Google internet."
This is why Google+ will never best Facebook for sheer popularity. Facebook now has over 750,000,000 users - around 10% of the global population. It's just as embedded in our lives as Google Search. Of course, giants have fallen before. AOL. MySpace. But those were products that were either technologically outmoded (AOL) or hugely out-innovated (MySpace). Both of them were also, practically speaking, US-only services.
Google+ doesn't go out of its way to re-invent the wheel. It does the same thing most Google products do - it takes an idea that's already wildly popular, and makes it better. There's nothing wrong with this model - but it's not how you take down the powers that be (again, see Gmail). Why? Because it's a hell of a lot harder to get someone to switch from an existing product to a new, competitive one than it is to get someone who has never used a product of that kind before to try it in the first place.
Let me put it this way: can you envision a conversation in which your try to explain to your mother how "Circles" are better than Facebook friends? Good luck getting that point across in a compelling way. Most people today have no interest in a Google social network, and probably couldn't care less that one now exists. But who really cares about them? Google+ is cool, it's innovative, and it's tightly integrated into other Google products. I'm certainly not complaining.
Google+ has a clear demographic: geeks and enthusiasts. And for me, that's just fine. I want a social network without all of my friends and family that don't have any interest in Google products, tech news, or internet memes. They can remain on Facebook, compartmentalized into a different drawer of my e-life. I don't want to mix school, work, and personal. And Google+ lets me keep those things separate, just in case - Circles really are a great idea for the permissions-wary individual.
But for the vast majority of people, they're not a compelling reason to dump Facebook, let alone try Google+ in the first place. Again, that's alright. Those people that want to use Google+ will almost certainly end up using it consistently, it's so tightly integrated with Android, Google Talk, Picasa, and Search (with +1) that you'd really be ignoring the elephant in the room to use those services and forego Google+.
There's no doubt in my mind that Google+ is going to be a success. But speculating on the likelihood and extent of that success by using Facebook as a yardstick is, in my opinion, completely missing the point.