Is Google+ Going To Kill Facebook?

You'll have to forgive Facebook if they woke up this morning thinking the sky was falling; if they were subject to the same avalanche of news, comments, and questions about Google+ as the rest of us were for these last 24 hours, it'll seem like they've already been condemned to the social media scrapheap. And in case Facebook needed any reminder of how quickly social networking pioneers can fall, Google+ was launched on the same day MySpace, once supposedly valued at $12 billion, was sold for just $35 million to an ad network.

As my colleague Josh Bernoff points out, however, it's a bit too early to write Facebook's obituary. First, we have to consider the fact that Google hasn't exactly lit the social world on fire in the past: Google Buzz was largely ignored, Google Wave was largely ridiculed, and even Orkut may be starting to lose its famous lead in Brazil. Then there's the fact that Google+'s key feature — the ability to organize your friends into "circles" and share certain content only with certain circles — isn't exactly new: Facebook already offers "lists" that let you target which content is seen by which friends.

So in a nutshell, a company that's never really succeeded in social media has announced a feature that other social networks have offered for years. If Yahoo had launched this, would anyone have even noticed?

Perhaps that's a bit harsh. In fact, as a consumer I love the circles idea. One of the smartest things about Orkut when it launched 7 years ago was its recognition — then unique in social networking — that not every friend is equal. Google makes the point that in real life we don't share the same information with everyone we know — and that our online social networks should work the same way as our offline ones. And that's undoubtedly true. I think the main reason Facebook's lists haven't caught on is that it takes a long time to organize an existing group of connections (one Saturday when I was bored, I organized my 400-odd Facebook friends into lists, and it took me hours) — but if you start with lists or circles from day 1, as Google+ is doing, it just might work.

If it does work then it'll be another step in "unleashing social from its chains," as Sean Corcoran likes to say, and making sure users can take their social interactions with them wherever they go online. This isn't a Facebook killer; instead, like Facebook's own Open Graph, it's another splinter in the social web — making it ever easier for people to access their networks and social content on any web site through any device. And that's exciting for users and website owners.

For marketers, though, it's somewhat less exciting. If Google+ and the "circles" concept take off, companies could have a much harder time reaching people through social media. After all, if users spend more time posting content to and reading content from just their circles of friends, doesn't that make it harder for marketers to get a message through? The more selective a user is in whom they listen to, the more likely they are to screen marketing out of their world. It's a growing fact of life in online marketing — Google's done something similar with its Gmail "priority inbox" feature, and Twitter's lists (as well as the lists features in Tweetdeck and Hootsuite) help people screen out non-essential messages as well. And fragmentation of social platforms doesn't exactly help marketers, either: The more unique social tools our customers use, the more time we spend developing for and managing different platforms. So if Google+ catches on, there's a real chance that social media marketing will become more difficult than it already is.

In the end, we'll have to wait and see how Google+ develops, and how popular it becomes, before we know the real impact on consumers and marketers. But for now, I think social media marketers have more to fear than Facebook does.

Comments

Social Media marketing is,

Social Media marketing is, fundamentally, snake oil.

Sorry, but it's true. It's nice that Social Media Experts were able to secure work during the Great Recession, but, they'll need to evolve their skills and offer more tangible value to Brands going forward.

Look at Brands who now have Twitter teams? Then look at Twitter's demographics and actual user engagement base. Look at how many minutes per day the avg American spends on Facebook (12.5 minutes) compared to television (4 hours).

Believing that every channel out there should be an ad channel is pretty ridiculous. There's a reason we bought DVRs and have our remote controls in hand -- we want to get away from Marketers and Advertisers, not invite them into every crevasse of our Being.

While we are all trying to

While we are all trying to remove Marketers and Advertisers from our life, it is very difficult to do without the users have to spend more money. Commercials on television keep our cable bills down, if we were given TV without any ad's how would they make money? In order for these medias to succeed they need money coming in whether it is from advertisements or the consumers and I for one do not want to flip the bill.

Isn't this what Apple does

Isn't this what Apple does with great success? It's not about the feature, it's about execution. Sure Facebook has lists but are they easy to use and do most Facebook users know about them? I think circles is a great UX answer to the problem of social network privacy settings that will appeal to a wide swath of the social networking community. They've also taken other features that have been fringe to social technology, like group video chat and group mobile messaging, and integrated them better with the core social networking utilities. None of these are immediate Facebook killers but there are definitely signs that Facebook has reached that peak of inflated expectations, if you don't mind me using a Gartnerism, and this kind of disruption could push them closer to a decline. What's more likely is that Facebook will get better and adopt some of these features and stave off any significant exodus to another platform. I do, however, think that Google is better positioned to provide these services over the long run since they already have such great messaging and productivity tools that are complete absent from Facebook.

Facebook's not shy about copying features

You're right, Peter - if the execution works, then the feature works, and Google+ succeeds. Again, I really like circles as a consumer, and hope this idea quickly makes it way into other social networks. And you're right that Facebook will pay close attention and copy the feature if it works, just as the 'Twitterized' their newsfeed early on in Twitter's trajectory, or added Facebook Places once FourSquare started to become popular.

FB lists

I have 1,000 social contacts nicely organized into lists: family, work, church, professional, school, etc. Since I post only once on Saturday FB lists seem to work great for me..

re: Isn't this what Apple does

The best summary yet of Google+: Facebook, Apple-style. The winner is the UX and has me itching for an invite. But, as you say, how long before Facebook copies?

I'm mindful of Foursquare and Facebook Places...

Lists - choices

Organizing fb friends into lists - takes hours

This sir! I do beg to differ .

You always have the choice of adding multiple friends to a list by clicking on the "add multiple" tab

The computational estimate:
So if you have four hundred friends, assuming you take about a second (they are your own friends. So obviously you don't have to invest in thinking time to select them into a list ) for adding each friend to a list, the action of clicking to select takes ~400 seconds , let say 7 min , after appending 10 to 20 seconds to save the current group to select a next group to add names in.

Of course I am assuming that you don't have a colossal fragmentation of lists. An average person I think might just be having 4 or 5 listed categories :)

Anyway I will just put in an additional 13 min (two seconds free for every one second of key board work) to ensure your fingers get sufficient rest between instantaneous clicks becasue obviously, this is an act done in leisure

So there! Shouldn't be more than one-thirds of an hour .....

cheers.

ps: it worked for me. I re-listed about 900+ friends on my fb account :)

Perhaps I'm just a bit slow...

Or perhaps being able to classify one person per second is a bit optimistic - but either way, it really did take me a couple of hours to classify 400+ people onto five lists.

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