The Facebook Juggernaut
Most of us (somewhat over 500 million of us, to be inexact) are on Facebook these days, and for many, that in itself is the reason we are. Even if you had never considered the phrase, “social networking” before, other folks you knew and wished to maintain contact with were already there, and it just seems natural to go where the people are.
Many rivals have popped up over the last few years, seeking to do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace. Render it an empty and no longer relevant medium for exchange relatively overnight. So far, all of them have failed. Facebook simply has too much inertia.
And In This Corner…
Recently, Google has launched Google+, a social media designed to emulate everything good about Facebook, and improve upon the rest. Its basic functionality is the same, but it contains a few tweaks and features that really do set it apart. Is it enough to topple Goliath? Let’s take a look.
Round and Round
The most widely talked about feature of G+ is Circles. Circles function much the same as Facebook’s friends feature, except that when you first associate with a person, you choose which circle to place them into. Friends, Work People, People My Wife Knows, People I Hate, whatever you want your circles to be. Then, whenever you post a status, you can include or exclude whichever circles you want to see it. It’s fast and elegant, and works seamlessly within the process. (People added to a group receive an alert that they’ve been added to your circles, though they are not told which one.
Facebook has long had a much clunkier Groups function, which sort of did the same thing, although it was much more difficult and confusing to use. Recently though, Facebook has updated the feature to resemble G+’s. It’s a welcome and much needed improvement.
I Can SEE You!
Facebook recently acquired Skype in order to add video chat technology to their site. It works well and is easy enough to use for pretty much any one on one application. Facebook analyzed Skype’s user data and concluded that the vast majority of users only ever used one on one chat, so that’s all they offer. (Of course Skype provided this for free, and charged money for group chats, so it’s possible that the data are a bit skewed.)
Google+, on the other hand, offers “hangouts”, which are chats for up to ten users at once. The technology shows all the participants in a line at the bottom, blowing up and centering the image of whoever is talking. It’s fun and easy to use, and the implementation is top notch.
Big Brother Sees You Too
Okay, many people forget this, but anything you say online can, and will, be used against you in a court of trolls, flamers, and thirteen year olds. It’s the nature of the beast. Many of us have simply developed thicker skin than we used to have, and many of us have developed strategies for filtering out the inane and reckless venom engendered by online anonymity. Still, Facebook has gathered a few black eyes over the years by playing fast and loose with its members “private” information.
It comes down to this. Facebook is not a charity, it is a business. The make money by the sale of your information to advertisers, and by providing those advertisers access to you. That’s the deal you make when you sign up. Facebook often goes about this in ways that seem sneaky or underhanded, and users frequently get quite vocal in their anger and sense of betrayal. In my experience, it is easier on one’s constitution to assume that there are no sacred cows and try to ignore the tumult whenever Facebook changes the rules to reopen your information to anyone who wants it. Again.
Google+ has yet to be faced with this hurdle. They make the claim that they will never allow third party advertisers access to your information, which, for the moment at least, I believe. Google manages a great deal of Internet advertising all on their own, and when the day comes that they feel the need to add it to G+, they are perfectly capable of filtering the right ads to the right eyes without letting anyone else watching them do it.
Where is Everyone?
As of today, G+ seems like the superior product, except for one very important thing. All of your friends are still on Facebook. Google+ has been alternating back and forth between open sign ups and invite-only sign ups since they began. My uneducated guess is that by controlling the initial influx of members they are better able to prevent server slowdowns, bottlenecks, and outages as the service gears up. (Something Facebook continues to struggle with to this day.) unfortunately, they have also caused some confusion among people wanting to join.
Currently, Google+ is not seriously affecting Facebook’s numbers and bottom line. Whatever the eventual outcome, this is likely to be the case for the immediately foreseeable future. Two years out? Three? Who knows? One thing to note is that G+ has already had a positive impact on Facebook. Reacting to the things that people like about the competition is forcing them to take a second look at the way things are being done. In the end, whether it stands or falls, Google+ is likely to have an overall positive impact on the social networking landscape.