Can Google+ Run Circles Around Facebook?
Google+ is a bold move by the company that has become term synonymous with internet search, to take on Facebook the social networking giant. At first Google+ seemed to be a genuine threat, but some of their fundamental differences aren't luring users away from Facebook. One of the fundamental differences is that Facebook is about sharing and relating to one another while Google+ emphasizes connections to each other.
One of the clear strengths of Google+ is integration into Google's other software and products. If you currently use a Gmail account for your email, you already have a YouTube account, and maybe you keep online photo albums with Picassa or started a blog on Blogger. Although you can post links to Facebook, Google's user experience design team can make the process seamless so that with one click a user can post additions to an album or a new blog post across all of the Google realm including Google+.
Facebook users will find some similarities with Google+ in their user experience. The "+1" button is equivalent to Facebook's "Like" button. Although this may change in the future, whether it is their profile page or home page layout of widgets, Facebook users do not have the option of customizing their pages. Twitter and MySpace, social media predecessor to Facebook, allow users to customize the appearance of their profile page. With the rising popularity of users on Facebook exclusively on their mobile devices, this may not be a concern.
One promising new feature that doesn't have a Facebook equivalent is Hangouts. Anyone that has ever used Facebook chat can attest to its limitations. With so many users already using other programs like Skype to video or voice chat, it is a logical evolution to integrate the feature into a social networking site. The ability to video chat with more than one friend is a service that requires premium charges via a monthly subscription on other sites. For older users of the internet, it brings to mind early chat rooms. This may be the single greatest feature that gives Google+ an advantage.
Many users are concerned about data control. Users have been taken aback by information stored and the uses of data. There is a genuine concern that if Google can store recent searches and store personal data from your activity within Google+, then behavioral profiles can be constructed and used throughout your use of Google products for target ads. Facebook asserts that at present, they don't track information outside of Facebook and that ads are based on the information you volunteer; the "Likes" you post on Facebook. For now the two seem to be tied in the networking privacy battle. Any change in policy could give the other an advantage.
Google+ was designed around Circles for privacy and exclusion. The user can sort through friends and separate friends by groups called Circles. This feature allows a user to select groups when you post or broadcast information. With friends and family being so mobile, you may have friends and family scattered all over the country. For example, you may want to post information about an event but exclude coworkers for privacy and friends that don't live in the area. In Google+, if you have friends sorted into Circles, it's easy to just include the groups you would like to invite.
Google+ Circles are also a fault because of how Google intends for you to use them. Google+ doesn't allow users to use nicknames and has closed down accounts to enforce their policy. Google's reasoning is to fight spam and prevent fake profiles. Google profiles are designed to be searchable by name to enable anyone to connect with you. All of your Google accounts are tied back to this public profile posing a threat to privacy. Many users maintain more than one email account and prefer to use different accounts to maintain our privacy. Google isn't enabling this privacy despite their answer of maintaining Circles. In contrast, Facebook allows users a wider broadcast, as Twitter does. Google+ allows users to limit and select the information that you share publicly and throughout your circles of friends. The drag and drop system in itself is easy, the process of sorting through contacts and creating Circles can become overly complicated. Users don't have a choice but to do this to maintain any sort of privacy.
One of Facebook's greatest advantages over Google+ is that it has become a standard. Cultural and technological infrastructure is already in place. Many users update their statuses, post camera phone pics, and check updates from their mobile devices. Facebook users are very familiar with apps. These apps, with your permission, allow third parties to acquire information about them. Many apps are popular games that allow users to interact with friends via Facebook. There are several that are very popular, and this is yet another way Facebook keeps users on Facebook for longer periods of time.
Google is fighting a legacy of failing outside of the search engine. If you have forgotten Orkut, you aren't the only one. Orkut was an earlier attempt by Google at a social networking site. It began as an invitation only social network that was supposed to grow organically, not unlike our own social networks, but has been largely forgotten. More recently Google introduced Buzz, the social networking site to rival Twitter. It seemed to have an advantage of integration with Gmail but as it turned out, Buzz wasn't much of a threat to Twitter. Celebrities, news outlets, and businesses, small and large, are all very active on Twitter.
There was a great deal of interest in Google+ early on with people clamoring for invites from friends but that has since fizzled. Google failed to lure people and keep them, in large numbers, away from Facebook. The future success of Google+ will depend on Google's response to criticism and adapting to user feedback. Beyond being reactionary, Google needs to make Google+ more attractive than Facebook. Facebook users need a good reason to leave and spend time on Google+. For now they are comfortable on Facebook.