Why Google + Will Win

In the beginning, there was MySpace.

Well, sort of. MySpace was the genesis of the social networking phenomenon, if not the first social network in existence. It brought the concept of social networking to a larger number of “netizens” (remember that term?) than ever before.

MySpace was predicated upon human nesting instinct. Users logged in and could (relatively, for the time) easily create their own digital home, complete with the background music, color scheme, and obnoxious animated .gifs of their own choosing. However, actual social interaction wasn’t all that rewarding. For a social network, MySpace was incredibly introverted – users spent much of their time decorating their digital homes instead of visiting each other.

Facebook was built interaction-first. Certainly, it provided a digital home, but one that was highly limited in its customization. The interface faded away in the background as a result, and social interaction became the focus. It was precisely because of this that Facebook succeeded while MySpace faded away to a digital graveyard.

However, the success of Facebook is what is killing Facebook. Near its inception, college friends would post photos and inside jokes with each other. They would meet acquaintances through Facebook that would ultimately become real friends. Now, it seems that literally everyone and their mothers has a Facebook account. The average number of ‘friends’ is now 130 and climbing – personally, I have found that most of my ‘friends’ have at least double that amount.

It’s become a social norm to connect on Facebook, and seen as almost rude if a friend request is denied. As the numbers swell, you may find your news feed dominated by that weird guy you met at a conference who seems to be using a pseudonym and posts links to every news item he can find on a single subject, that bored housewife you met through a friend who posts every inane detail of her home life with unfortunately descriptive posts and vivid photos, your elderly relative who types personal advice to you in his status with his email signature on the end, and so on. The noise is deafening.

There is a distinct need to separate people into different facets of life. Entirely different social networks were created to fill that need – LinkedIn has become the de-facto place to connect with your boss and colleagues while preventing them from seeing the real reason you called in sick. However, the time and effort needed to update multiple social networks is prohibitive, and thus, LinkedIn serves mostly as a digital business card instead of a social network. When was the last time you updated your LinkedIn status?

Facebook has tried to combat this issue in a limited fashion with the introduction of friends lists, followed by groups. However, the percentage of FB users who use friends lists are in the single digits, and groups don’t allow you to categorize people in ways that might offend them (“People Who Post Inane Shit All The Time,” for example). Privacy and circumspection are not the default on Facebook, and are thus not utilized the vast majority of the time.

This is why G+ will win.

Reason one – Circles:
Circles are the only way to interact with friends. If you want to “add a friend,” you simply drop them into the appropriate circle. G+ creates and defines the first few circles for you – Friends: “Your real friends, the ones you feel comfortable sharing private details with.”, Acquaintances: “A good place to stick people you’ve met but aren’t particularly close to.”, and so on. As the G+ invites roll out slowly, users will find that they are able to categorize the people in their life to the appropriate circle (or circles) naturally and easily. As they post links, status updates, and photos, they not only will be able to select their friend circles, but are forced to do so. Easily selected update streams make it easy for users to hear the news from each of these as well. The entire network is built around circumspection.

Reason two – Ubiquity:
If you already have a gmail account, you will soon have a G+ account. It aggregates all of your information for you in a convenient if somewhat creepy way, making onboarding as low cost as possible. It ties into all of your Google services, from Youtube to Picasa to even Google search (through +1). This was explored more thoroughly on this well written post: http://www.allfacebook.com/the-one-google-plus-feature-facebook-should-fear-2011-06

Reason three – Damn Good Design:
G+ has rolled out at the same time as Google’s visual refresh, and it looks good. The black bar at the top fades into the noise of the browser chrome except for when you look for it, and the content is emphasized by dimming down everything else. G+ learned UX lessons from Facebook and added some much needed tweaks – the most notable, in my opinion, being the ability to view and interact with notifications without navigating from the current page. In addition to allowing G+ interaction on every Google page in existence, this makes notifications more lightweight and satisfying to the user.

Combine a common need with near-forced onboarding and build it over solid UI/UX, and G+ emerges as a compelling contender in the social networking ring.

What could Facebook do to compete?

Facebook has the advantage and disadvantage of numbers. Everyone knows what it is and where to find it. If it wants to compete with G+, however, it will need to implement some sort of circumspection system. With every change on FB notoriously moving away from circumspection and privacy, it would be a significant philosophical and conceptual change. Even more challenging would be the feasibility of implementing such a system. G+ has the advantage of starting from scratch – one by one, users will rebuild their social nets, and categorize their contacts as they do. While I’m sure that my G+ net will eventually be quite large, the act of categorizing one at a time makes it feel lightweight and natural. Categorizing my 600+ friends on Facebook, however, seems quite a daunting task.

Facebook may have to implement a (better) automatic categorization and filtering system in order to compete that users could use a jumping-off point. Perhaps it could auto-create ‘circles’ as based on statistically-proven friend matrices:
– “actual friends” could be filled with contacts within a certain age range and geographical location of the user
– “colleagues” could be sorted by work and/or education entries
– “similar interests” could be filled with people who often post links from the same news sites
– “family” could be extrapolated based upon last names and relationship statuses
…and so forth.

In addition, Facebook could attack this from a business perspective, and try to get in bed with Apple the way Twitter will be in iOS5. If the large base of iPhone users can share to Facebook much more easily than G+, that might be compelling enough to not switch.

What are your thoughts?

  • Vamsi

    Yeah,,,awesome features..but donno how people will receive it ..

  • Steven

    Myspace was not the first social network. Not even close. It wasn’t even the first really popular social network either. Just writing that it was already made me not want to read the rest of this article…

    • http://www.n2local.com Eric Westman

      I think he meant, MySpace for the first social network that actually got enough attention to be called the “first”… sure there was Friendster, even AO-hell – but people weren’t really on-board with social networking thanks to news stories about how all of this would somehow lead to big-brother watching us (and maybe they are)…

  • FredZed

    Just a note, Friendster predated MySpace.

    The MySpace folks saw Friendster, and decided to copy it.

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  • Jonathan Bahr

    and Bolt.com predated Friendster.

  • http://nathandavis.squarespace.com/ Nathan Davis

    I think a design flaw in Google+ right now is that comments have the same size font, bold color and styling as the post. Makes for a lot of “stuff” in the visual field when you are looking through the stream.

  • Aaron B.

    It sounds and looks better than facebook. There’s still a big problem with social networking that needs to be addressed though, and that problem is that in most cases social networks are centralized.

    Social networks would be much better if they were decentralized, like email. For example, email is decentralized because you can send an email from your gmail address to your friend’s yahoo mail address (or any other domain). You are not tied to any email provider if you want to email anyone in the world. Conversely, most social networks are centralized, meaning that if you are on social network “A” and your friend is on social network “B”, you can’t share with each other unless one of you opens an account with the common network.

    There are currently groups working on determining open standards that allow the adopting networks to “talk” with each other (http://d-cent.org/fsw2011/). Such standards would allow you to choose which social network you want to join regardless of the network your friends might be on, while still maintaining the ability to “friend” them, have a news feed, share a profile information, etc. If you didn’t like your social network provider’s policies, you could simply switch networks without the concern of losing social network contact with your friends. Heck, if you were geeky enough and had the desire, you could easily setup your own network server to communicate on the universal standard.

    The bigger companies (Google, Facebook, et al) have the resources though, and decentralizing social networks probably does not make sense to them as a business model. Currently, there’s no reason they would want to split up their market share like that. With that being said, Vodafone is supporting onesocialweb.org

    It is great that Google is implementing “circles”, but it is hardly an original idea (see Diaspora, Friendika, Buddycloud, etc). Google does have the recognition and user base though. Additionally, G+ looks like it will have a far better UI than the feature lacking Diaspora, which is only in Alpha testing.

    Don’t even get me started on twitter. The open alternative to twitter are status.net implementations like identi.ca

    Decentralize and federate the web!

  • http://www.PlanetSantaBarbara.com Matt

    a) How much will this devalue the FB IPO?
    b) Do we really need another big cloud product from Google in our lives? We are centralizing everything in some space that nobody knows about…
    c) Any idea when we will be out of Beta?

    I’ll be glad to leave FB because the UI sucks!

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