Google Takes on Facebook

The introduction of Google Plus, amidst of frenzy of product improvements and introductions by Google, represents the first salvo in a war between Facebook and Google for the soul and the direction of the Internet. It may also reveal the thinking and ambitions of Larry Page, who now has a firm grip on Google’s tiller.

Google, the ubiquitous utility with a billion users, might be the only contender with the technical firepower, cash, scale and energy to take on Zuckerberg & Company, who clearly aim to swallow the Internet as evidenced by the use of Facebook Connect as single sign-on device, the widespread use of the Like button as a sharing and voting tool and regulated but wide access to the Facebook API as the connective tissue underlying an array of functionality.

As Ben Elowitz noted in his All Things Digital blog piece, Google focused on processes and utilities (search, maps, e-mail, satellite images) to dominate the Web since the 90s. But Facebook, focusing on people and the connections between them, has already matched and will regularly exceed Google’s traffic. Facebook is becoming a “new home base” for people to use the Web. As the gateway to content and functionality, Facebook will be in a position to set the agenda and squash nascent competitors.

Google + is a button (similar to Like) and a social network (reflective of Facebook). In addition to launching these directly competitive offerings, Google has also redesigned its search home page, introduced free analytics tools for social and mobile media, launched Mobile Sites landing pages, built a Google Plus Android app, created Google Swiffy which converts Flash files to HTML5 and promises even more inventions and upgrades.

The early reviews for the Google + social network project are mostly favorable. It’s clear that Google has learned from its past mistakes and has adopted tools and lessons learned from others in the space. The friending and sorting tool looks and feels like Plaxo’s friend finder. The home page, minus a wall, resembles a streamlined Facebook page.

The new functionality – Circles for finding and sorting friends is not new but emphasizes the need to bucket friends and makes it easy.  Hangout, a Skype-like, group video chat function is a nice to have feature that will appeal to certain audience segments. Sparks and Huddle allow an individual to cue or organize online or offline group activity easily.

Other not-so-new but useful refined features include emphasis on mobile and social tools like an easy photo upload tool, instant connections to Gmail, a simple sharing mechanism, the ability to add location, using the GPS function, to any post. While this will appeal to developers eager to participate in Android’s spectacular growth, these are cool and useful but hardly killer apps.

Clearly Google watched, listened and responded to evolving needs and nuances in the use of social media. The Google Plus features make sense and add incremental value to the social networking experience. They also refine, build and improve functions that will enable and accelerate advertising sales opportunities. What’s not clear is why somebody would either switch from Facebook to Google+ or add it as a second social network.

Google+ will get a lot of attention. Launched using Google’s standard BETA-invitation only tactic, it is spawning curiosity and demand. But the really play is long term as King Kong meets Godzilla.


4 Responses to Google Takes on Facebook

  1. Chris Nielsen July 7, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    Google could jump off a cliff and there would be those who would express awe and wonder as several of them jumped too.

    Google+ was not a bad idea, but extending it so people can 1+ paid ads is a very, very bad idea because it’s not opt-out and because it may bring “unwanted” attention to ads. Advertisers don’t want people clicking because they are “curious”, they want people clicking because they are “interested”. A 1+ by someone you know doesn’t carry enough information to indicate “WHY” someone tagged it. Heck, maybe it was a mistake, who knows?

    A fight between Facebook and Google is pretty much a joke because they are both in the same league, but play well in different sports. Google’s Groups and social network are just awful. Have you even heard of Orcut? Have you used Google Groups?

    Aside from clearly defining what a social network can and should be, I hear many facebook users don’t use email much anymore – they use facebook. My biggest wish for FB is that they expand “Like” to include “Don’t like” and “Ho-hum” buttons.

  2. Smitty Boros July 7, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    I genuinely enjoyed this article. Thank you. Near the end, you raise the question as to “why somebody would either switch from Facebook to Google + or add it as a second social network”. Would greatly appreciate your insights on this topic. Having not been fortunate enough to be included in the initial invitation to Google + , I am interested in your informed thoughts. Thanks again.

  3. Elias Shams July 8, 2011 at 3:30 am #

    This is awesome!!! The more social networking sites like Google+ and the new myspace popping up, the better for my new gig,  Social media is here to stay for good. Given vast variety of the existing channels to choose and stick with, it’s time for such a hot space to enter into a new category.

    Here is my 2cents on this whole internet -> search Engine -> Social media things and my rational on why there is a need for a portal to provide a quick and intelligent decision for both the consumer and the companies about their online connections. A Platform to Help us to Distinguish Our Quality vs. Quantity Friends, Fans, Followers, and Companies:

    – Early 90s: WWW was born…
    – By mid 90′s: millions of sites popped up on the Web…
    – Mid – late 90s: Yahoo & Google were born to help us to find the right information of the right pages on the Web…
    – Early 2000: Social media was born…
    – Late 2000: Millions of pages created by people, companies, and organizations on all these social media channels.
    – 2011: Deja vu all over again… we are back to early 90’s…

    That is why I built to accomplish such a mission – the portal to all your existing social media channels.

    CEO & Founder

  4. Nick Stamoulis July 8, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    I’m still not convinced that Google+ will take off. If anything people will have Google+ accounts and Facebook accounts, but I don’t see them switching completely. Facebook has become too big a part of our lives. I could be wrong, but we’ll see.