It can be assumed that we kind of all know the history and storyline of Facebook by now. If you don’t, go see the movie “The Social Network”. In summary, Facebook was started by Mark Zuckerberg and some friends at Harvard University. It became very popular, very fast, and now it’s one of the most popular websites in the world. With over 800 million active users worldwide (and counting), Facebook is by far, the social network “to beat.
… But is it truly the best?
Anyway you look at it, for the last 3-4 years, Facebook has gotten’ it right. There have been some minor hiccups along the way, but overall, the reception of Facebook is stellar. It is perfect example of how a social networking application should be maintained and integrated into the web. It is easy to use, versatile and very powerful. Users can easily share content and see what friends are up form anywhere at anytime . The appeal of Facebook as an application is simple: It sports a very clean, understandable UI and built on a fast, responsive content sharing platform.
One of the more powerful aspects of the Facebook platform is it’s ability to be integrated with websites through a comprehensive API and Social Plugins. Publishers love this! These days you can’t visit a website without seeing at least the “Like button”. The implementation of the Facebook API and social plug-ins is used by pretty much all news outlets and blogs. What started off as a simple social networking site has spiraled into a development platform, marketing tool and content aggregator. In a lot of different ways, it has become the AOL of the “x generation”.
Facebook’s dominance in the social networking arena has taken some scrutiny, although for the most part, due to its overwhelming fan support, these things have not affected the companies success negatively. The most controversial aspect of Facebook, which once again reared it’s ugly head in 2011, is privacy. With the addition of the Facebook timeline and “frictionless” sharing, Facebook once again was put on the privacy defensive. It can be argued that Mark Zuckerburg views privacy as an important aspect of a social network only because his Facebook users have insisted that it is. He has been quoted as saying the “age of privacy is over”. MANY people disagree with this, although, Facebook continues to make updates that come very close to crossing the line of acceptability with their default privacy settings.
Other complaints against Facebook have focused on UI changes, but with time these have all gone away as users adapted to the changes.
Can facebook stay in touch with what the it’s users want, while continuing to improve and innovate the social network?
In 2011, after a couple different attempts at “getting social” with “Buzz” and “Wave”, Google finally released it’s legit social network application: Google +. Googl’s social network was invite only until late September of 2011. Once it was opened to the public it gained a whopping 30+ million new users.
At it’s core, Google + has a lot of similarities to Facebook. The difference being that it’s position as a truly relevant social network has yet to be established. Regardless of popularity, the question at this point is, with Google as it’s backbone, does Google + have more potential to be successful than Facebook?
Google+ has adapted very similar functions that Facebook has in place but has altered them to fill functionality gaps and to provide an alternative application that solves the problems which Facebook is criticized for. (A great marketing strategy!) For example, Google + did a great job filling the gap between Facebook and twitter by introducing “circles”. Google’s “Circles” are a way of categorizing the people you know. Although “friends lists” existed in Facebook for a while now, they were not a prominent feature until Google+ made the concept seem viable. Also, the new “subscribe” functionality that was introduced on Facebook is very similar to “following” people in Twitter and Google+. Facebook users can now subscribe to any persons status updates as long as they have subscriptions enabled on their end.
The Google+ UI is very clean and simple. It looks a lot like a minimal version of Facebook. While it is fairly easy to use and is very straight forward, at times it feels a little incomplete and inconsistent.
The Up-hill Battle
Google has always been criticized for not really being a “people” company. Meaning that, although they’re great at making algorithms and aggregating data, they are out of touch with how people share content and socialize on the web. Google+ may be Google’s best shot at disproving this claim. And they are doing a great Job. Arguably, Google+ has features that are more powerful than Facebook. For example, Google hangouts come to mind. with a few simple steps users can instantly be video chatting with a bunch of your friends at the same time. While Facebook has plans to implement similar functionality, Google has a head start. In addition, with the backing of Google, the integration between Google + and the rest of a many Internet users life is completely seamless. Google serves as a direct source for email, search, map and navigation, images, contacts, videos, and a host of other services. Although tightly integrated with many of these Google services, due to it’s overwhelming support, Facebook will always be 3rd party to the data that Google owns. A time goes on, will this be a Major factor in the Social Networking “wars”?
The key to Google’s success is simple… get people to use google+. Right now no-one NEEDS or wants another social network in their life. Facebook is great for everything people currently want social networking for. With that said, Google has the positioning, resources and data to take what people know and extend the status quo of a social network further and make it easier to do what people never thought they would want to do. While the potential is definitely there, will Google+ become enough of a “people company” to capitalize?
Thanks to Glen for this fight submission!
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