05
Jul
plus

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.

Two Internets

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.

Niche Market

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.

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Nick

    Great write-up. I whole-heartedly agree. Its the same situation with every new touchscreen phone "Is this the iPhone slayer?", or every new MMO video game "Will this game finally dethrone WoW?" Its not about obliterating such institutionalized products in one fell swoop. Its about providing an alternative, providing innovation and competition to push the market forward.

    When FB first came out, I loved it. It was exclusive and only my real, college friends were on it. I could post pictures from a party and I knew who was going to see it. Now EVERYONE is on FB. Sure I've got 1,000 friends, but I can't bring myself to even log in to the site anymore.

    When Google+ came out I was chomping at the bit to get in the closed beta. I two days ago and I love it. Circles are awesome, and very intuitive. The design is clean and sexy, and it integrates into the Google ecosystem so well. Its exactly what *I* want from a social network.

  • Michael

    Very well written. Another very good point is people just dont like change in general.

  • Xcom923

    I agree with most everything in this article except you might be underestimating how far Google is willing to go in this "war". If they manage to push Google + to everyone with a Google account they would out number FB, so even if they don't have as many active users they could us pure numbers to persuade more people into becoming active. Of course this all depends on how Google rolls their network out, and it might be seen as "Evil" so they may not do it....but hey we all remember how they handled buzz.

    • David Ruddock

      Even a push to all users would only result in a temporary boost. I doubt the vast majority would stick around very long. As you say, same thing happened with Buzz - they rolled it out to all Gmail accounts, and no one cared.

      And I don't think Google is at "war" with Facebook with this product - at least not in its present form. Google will continue to innovate and differentiate Plus as time goes on, and I think it will find a comfortable niche as a Facebook alternative, rather than a competitor.

      • Xcom923

        yeah I guess I should have said pending "war" make no mistake they are targeting facebook with G+. Nobody cared about buzz? I beg to differ, buzz got a lot of backlash. Granted this is not positive but I also wanted to point out that what I ment by google having outnumbered FB users is that they have more users across all their programs not just gmail but picasa, calendar, search, voice, etc... if G+ can be well integrated in all those products we all may not have a choice but to use it.

        • radlad

          Except they are not "targeting" Facebook. They are trying to enhance their services with a social aspect. Google has been aware that Facebook could become the "social search" of the future. Google needed to integrate that type of social activity into their products to remain relevant.

  • http://plus.google.com/113974181374058734489 Sherman

    I agree with you. I actually like there being two social networks. One for family and old friends, and another for people and topics that actually interest me.

  • ZuLQi

    I don`t understand why author said that myspace and AOL are gone but Facebook will remain ?

    i have 167 friends but maximum 10 friends are active at a time.

    Facebook is on its way to downside , Facebook is nomore that important to people .

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      700 million members was the latest stats recently, which is way up from 500 million last year. They're still growing, but of course not as fast as before (I think they're running out of people at this point).

    • Chris

      AOL and MySpace never reached Facebook's level of popularity. Sure, they were popular, and in AOL's case, more widely known than actually used (who didn't end up with a big enough stash of free trial discs to last a lifetime?).

      But there's a certain threshold at which point a product transcends 'popular' and simply becomes a part of the landscape, something that everyone takes for granted. MySpace never expanded beyond the teenage demographic, and that killed its image. AOL locked users into using its proprietary software and was slow to get into the high-speed market.

      But Facebook now has a global reach. It has a self-sustaining user-base. It's free (unlike AOL) and doesn't try to be trendy (unlike MySpace), it just tries to be clean and reliable. A strategy that worked for Google to break into the search market and become synonymous with the very idea of web searching.

  • http://talk3g.co.uk Hands0n

    A nicely reasoned article. There is no "war", there never has been.

    Having got on to Google+ while it was still possible to I can see where there is going to be a swift take up, but not on the scale of 300Mln. Some people will simply not get it. Circles is brilliant, but as the author says, just try and explain why to the illiterati. Its all about refined control of who sees what, but how many FB'ers even care about such stuff?

    I think that Google+ will come into its own as it matures and incorporates the other Google product. Calendars will be a massive hit once people get into the notion that group (or circle) calendars can be established.

    But already, its real time meeting "Hangout" and "Huddle" have yet to have their potential touched.

    And it is quite possible to reach out from Google+ to those of your contacts that are not already on. Now that is a powerful tool. Arrange a Huddle or Hangout, notify all your friends (in and out of Google+) and it is going to virally draw membership. It can't not.

    No, this is less than one week of accessibility and it is far too soon for anyone to predict how Google might fail as it did with Buzz for example.

  • http://free.com.hr Goran

    I would have to disagree with most of the points. First of all, Google is not competing on Facebook social. It is purely improving its core business - the search. It has realized that the main signal of quality is social signal, because, algorithms improve, so do spamming techniques. If G+ gets only a 100 mil users (only geeks, enthusiasts etc) they will have enough ranking signals. Besides of that, with that amount of traffic, they can monetize on adsense. I have a Google profile, make a search on my name, g-profile already outranks my LinkedIn on google.com... get the point? Cheers!

  • Falken

    Everybody using an Android phone or tablet is forced into creating a Google account. Likewise for a Google TV. So how long will it be before all of your family members have Google+ accounts? In a few years it might become impossible not to have one.

  • L boogie

    A well done article, David..... however, it's becoming inevitable that G+ is being labeled as Facebook's new rival and I hope that's not the case because I like the overwhelming, positive responses generated from the beta test so far and I'm looking forward to joining the G+ network when it's ready for primetime.

  • Jerry

    Facebook now has 750,000,000 users.....they 500,000,000 last summer.

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/23/facebook-750-million-users/

    • David Ruddock

      hah, well, I'll be sure to update the piece with that figure. Thanks!

  • Rob

    There's no war? Tell that to Facebook.

  • GergS

    I hope g+ at least spurs tons of innovation in the social sphere. That or destroys Facebook. G+ is leagues better than FB for our privacy and usability.

    Circles > Twitter && Facebook, since circles simply supercedes all the messaging ability in a natural package.

  • Brendan

    I will be happy if I never see company or campaign googleplus page. OMG catch us on our google plus page!

  • Vince

    Here is the main reason why Facebook and Twitter is wildly popular especially among 50 and 60 somethings. The MEDIA pushed it out there. Have you watched typical news broadcasts from say, CNN, FOX and the likes. Have you seen how they ALWAYS mention Facebook or Twitter in almost every news report. "You can continue following this story on our website and of course, our Twitter feed...".

    Also the promise of finding or hooking up with old classmates and friends was what made Facebook popular among the old crowd. Twitter's own promise was with mini-blogging. I still don't get what's so attractive about it but it worked for them.

    For G+ to succeed, it needs to identify certain social elements and what people want in their social communications. The "Circles" aspect is a good first start. However, they need to elaborate it more, and make it an aggressive tagline as they put the name out there. Facebook allows you to make lists, groups and what have you but we all know how clunky, cluttered and slow it is.

    Also, if they need to work more on the mobile app and make it an integral part of Android itself instead of a separate app that requires download when you purchase a new phone. It will make it thrive in gaining new users who will probably be curious and will get to love it once they try out it's new features. Considering, that these days, more people are using their phones more than their laptops, it makes sense to make the mobile app shine more. Not saying they should ignore the full site though.

    /rant.

  • Lee

    The advantages that FB has besides incumbency is games and to some extent social apps. It's not enough to just provide the means to socialize, but to provide something to socialize about. It's the reason Zynga is worth so much.

    I agree with your editorial, but primarily because of Google's reputation. It seems they stay in beta for a very long time and only add features once in a while. Email for example isn't the primary reason those fellows are using yahoo/Hotmail, it's very likely because of chat, and chat features of those services. Again the problem is incumbency (their friends are on yahoo/live) and games/apps (chat features).

    If I were to describe Google's behaviour, I would say they lack ambition in their products.

  • Ray

    This is similar to people always looking for the "iphone killer"... The question really is, Can the new idea survive the competition already in market long enough to thrive. Well android did that ... But the iphone, it still isn't dead.

    • http://schpydurx.livejournal.com ProfessorTom

      Nor will it die.

  • Genisis

    Great write up and I have to say that I agree with it. I for one WILL be using google+ and will be encouraging everyone else to at least try it and get off the facebook wagon.

  • http://inzi.com Chris

    People don't like change? I Disagree. Nobody remembers A.O.L.? "But AOL Sucked" you say? - well guess what - I've been using G+ for about a week and FB is starting to feel old and crappy.
    People will change, and they'll change happily if they think there's value in it. It won't / can't happen overnight. AOL was alive long enough to buy some of the biggest media companies on the planet.
    Again, you say people don't like change? Bull-Crap -
    Otherwise, we'd all be using Yahoo, AOL, Windows CE smartphones, and dogpile.
    The Internet biomass has made multiple mass migrations. I was on the Internet before HTML + WWW (we got there via BBSs). If you know what Trumpet Winsock is, then you'll know I'm right. If G+ is better, faster, safer, and easier- watch out.

    Because people - here's the rub. G+ versus Facebook is a Social Internet versus a Social Network. Those are two extremely different things going two very different directions.

    • Xcom923

      LOL typically I'd agree with you but your examples AOL and yahoo?? People still use them Yahoo mail is still huge, larger than Gmail anyway (which is also huge) there are still an absurd amount of people that use AOL still. I actually agree that people don't like change, does that mean they won't do it? No, not really but there are going to be plenty of resistance from the average joe Google making this an easy transition is going to be key

  • denix

    The assumption that everyone has a Facebook account is just faulty. I refuse to join Facebook! Most of my friends (who are technically savvy) are not on Facebook. While I enjoy Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn and so on. And now Google+ for several days...

  • Seth Daniel

    You make some good points, however, I contend that just because it starts with us nerds doesn't mean it will end there. I have made this argument before, and will continue to stick by it. In my family and friends I have a reputation for being "tech savvy" always up on the latest gadgets and tech news. I convinced my entire family, as well as a number of friends to buy android phones. I single-handedly switched 6 phones from AT&T to sprint, without ever paying a bill for most of them. Many technology companies cater to the mainstream consumer and don't worry about the tech savvy user because we are relatively few. However, I argue that where the tech savvy user goes, his/her friends will follow.

    I will push for Google+ and have already gotten 4 people on it in a matter of a few hours while invites were open and 3 more requests after they closed. These are not only tech savvy users, in fact, only one of them owns an android phone, and that one is one in my family that I switched.

    My tldr version: Yes tech savvy users will be the first on Google+. But they are the most important users because their friends follow their technology choices anyway.

    • http://www.anivision.org Xcom923

      I couldn't agree more. I didn't really realize it till you said it but us techies are a very loud bunch. We let people know when we hate something and when we love it...well Android is a good example of what can happen we the tech community gets behind something we love.