Can Google+ Succeed Merely By Being Not Facebook?

from the it's-possible dept

Like many folks, I’ve been playing around a bit with the latest attempt by Google to offer “social networking” features, Google Plus. Given the underwhelming performance of Orkut, Buzz, Wave and other attempts — combined with the inability to do anything useful with the purchased companies Jaiku and Dodgeball — I really didn’t expect much. However, after playing around with it a bit, I have to admit that my first reaction, like some others’, is that it’s surprisingly well done. I can’t quite explain why or how, but it feels like Facebook, without everything that makes Facebook feel clunky. Not surprisingly, xkcd sums it up best:

While it makes for a good joke, I actually think there may be something to this. While tons of people spend a ridiculous amount of time on Facebook, the company has always given off something of a Micrsoftian-vibe, in that it has no fear of being “evil,” just so long as it dominates. While some people disagree, Google has tended to give off the opposite vibe. It often succeeds because of choices to be less “evil.” Just offering a working social network that “isn’t Facebook,” that just feels easy to use and comfortable may actually be compelling enough.

The current key difference with Google+ is in the “Circles” functionality, which better lets you compartmentalize who you’re sharing with. Rather than sharing with all your “friends,” Google lets you classify them into different groups, and makes it easy to choose who sees what. It’s one of those features that makes you wonder why Facebook never offered it. It also has a funky “hangout” feature, that basically makes video conferencing quite simple and convenient. Some, of course, will complain about yet another centralized social networking service, but as Rick Falkvinge points out, that really doesn’t matter to most people. And, to Google’s credit, it makes it abundantly clear within Google+ that you can export your data and delete your account at any time. In fact, the delete button is so easy to find, I got nervous that I’d accidentally click it (though, I’m guessing there’s a confirmation step somewhere).

That said, there are obviously still lots of challenges. Actually getting people to use the service is a big one (especially while Google is still trying its increasingly tiresome “you need an invite” launch method). Separately, I’m curious to see how well this plays with others. Will developers be able to build apps for it? How will those work? Will other services be able to integrate? The first thing I did was look to see if I could feed my Twitter feeds and Techdirt blog posts into my profile, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do either (the tools may be there, but I couldn’t find them). And, just in general, I think plenty of people feel a level of fatigue around the idea of starting up with another social network (even if Google makes it easy). I could definitely see Google+ not getting the kind of traction it really needs. But, I will say, that unlike some of its other attempts (especially Wave), my initial impression was that this is something worth playing with some more, and it’s something I could see myself using regularly. And, to be honest, a part of that is just the feeling that it’s not Facebook.

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Companies: facebook, google

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Comments on “Can Google+ Succeed Merely By Being Not Facebook?”

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Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

A little addition

I went poking around to see if I could find a “request invite” button and found this. Apparently there were so many people getting invites that they had to shut down the invite system. I think that may be a sign that getting people to join isn’t going to be that big of a problem for Google.

And if someone could send me an invite when the system is back up, that would be super.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A little addition

Could be. But frankly I’m a little unconvinced by the “sudden burst of traffic” excuse. This launch is Google’s last attempt at social – they weren’t about to let it flounder because of too few server resources. If they ran out of space, it’s probably because they planned to.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A little addition

Actually google is devoting some n% of their resources to the public beta. They hit that n% rather quickly. The things they need are the ability to create apps, the ability to import my facebook account and fiends, the ability to show me what people in each circle actually sees. I do really like Google+ as it stands but this is the just the beginning.

Truth be told facebook is like Lotus Notes, it does everything, but it does nothing really well.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yeah there’s something to be said for the “exclusivity” angle when generating buzz around something. But I have some doubts about that survey – 3,000 votes on a blog for Android phone enthusiasts is probably not the most representative sample. Especially not when we’re talking about competng Facebook – a website whose growth comes from the fact that it has been adopted by millions of otherwise-computer-illiterate people.

ComputerAddict (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Closing invites was not an ARTIFICIAL scarcity. It was a physical Scarcity.. Their servers literally could not keep up with demand. While we often talk about the cloud and web being able to grow infinitely, sometimes it does take people to plug in more servers, load up their OS’s and software to meet demand.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Closing invites was not an ARTIFICIAL scarcity. It was a physical Scarcity.

I highly doubt this. Google is not going to back out of their plans because of a lack of server resources – it’s freaking Google. You can bet they launched with a clear idea of their resources, the number of invites, the expected response, and their timeline for all of it. If they really could not “keep up with demand” then I’m fairly certain it was by design, not by mistake.

Essentially, if Google had wanted to launch with no invites and free registration for all, they could have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Do you understand what a beta test is?

It’s for the purpose of testing your new application or service with a small number of people to find bugs, test infrastructure, etc.

Why would Google who wants to try and become the next Facebook launch their product to the masses without external testing first?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I’m sorry, but I find it ridiculous that you say this was clearly intentional. Do you have any way to back that up or is it you’re personally offended about not getting an invite? I’m honestly not trying to be a dick, I just don’t think you understand how traditional beta testing works.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Lol. I am not bitter. I wouldn’t even be checking it out until after the long weekend anyway.

Traditional beta testing works with a fixed or somewhat flexible number of invites. That’s not the issue here. Google has blocked existing invites with the excuse that they can’t handle the demand. That’s what I find hard to believe.

Do you honestly believe that Google “accidentally” ran out of server resources on a product launch this important?

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

It may not be as malicious as you make it sound. There are quite a few server resources outside of RAM, drive space, or bandwidth that could be taking them down. It may be a “resource” that’s not physical. Maybe they wanted to keep it to only a couple of thousand initially so they could keep a better eye on things. With the failure of the last three, I can see them underestimating the requests.

Granted, it may be that they want it to look like it’s grown bigger then it really has. I admit that I didn’t care nearly as much about it until I read that they stopped accepting new users due to overload.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I’m really not saying it’s “malicious” – I’m not even sure if I think it’s a bad strategy.

I really want to clarify this because a lot of people obviously disagree with me (and I in no way claim to be sure) but all I am saying is this: I really don’t buy that they unexpectedly ran out of server resources.

This is Google we are talking about! Managing server resources is a massive part of what they do. They own, if not the most, then surely near to the most server farms and bandwidth of any company on the planet.

So really, that’s the only thing I’m not totally buying – the idea that Google was caught off guard in any way. Your explanation that they are intentionally keeping it to a smaller audience so they can monitor it makes more sense to me. Other than that I’m not really trying to make any strong point at all.

Lauriel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Reading the link Chronno provided, it does seem to be a beta testing limitation. From what the article implies, Google sent out invites to selected people to be beta testers. Then, those people were asked to add people to their accounts, thus increasing the number of beta testers, and creating networks. It was this demand that was unexpected – which also sounds like the original invitees were impressed.

David Liu (profile) says:

I don’t know about Google+. It seems kind of desperate on the part of Google. We’ve seen it’s past attempts at social networking fail, and Google just never seemed like a place where you’d “want to hang out”. Facebook, for all its evilness, still at least has a “cool hangout” vibe too it.

Google (or at least its front page) has become increasingly irrelevant as a place to stay. If I had to categorize it, it would be like an office. You go to it to get what you need done. You leave as soon as you’re finished.

Google has a ways to go before it can even convince me to look at its demo.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I totally disagree. I have my iGoogle homepage set up quite nicely, and I hang out there a lot to be honest. I have my Techdirt feed, slashdot in case anything interesting flows through there, ESPN, BBC, EFF, and Reuters Oddly enough for when I’m bored.

I don’t have facebook anymore, to me, it became too much like a mall. Too many annoying schoolchildren making noise that doesn’t add anything of value to anything. I’m not an old man, I just know that my time is too valuable to listen to garbage just for the sake of listening to garbage. To me, Facebook lost that “Cool hangout” vibe a long long time ago…

Lauriel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I also love my iGoolge page. For the first time I’m interested (and maybe a little excited) about any form of Google social media.

I really like the circle options, from what I’ve heard. Not many of my friends share ALL of my interests, and to be able to converse with a subset is something I’ve wanted from facebook for a long while.

When they do open it completely to the public, I’m at least interested enough to sign up and play around with it for a while.

John Doe says:

Re: What did Facebook expect?

Exactly. Facebook opens up every new service they create and leave you know even know about it and then go dig around to turn off the sharing. I hate Facebook but it is the best social network going right now. If Google figures out how to do it better and people show up, I would delete my FB account in a heartbeat.

Google might have the edge on FB for monetization too. They already have a huge ad network so they don’t need to open up your privacy like FB does.

A Dan (profile) says:

Facebook does offer it

“Rather than sharing with all your “friends,” Google lets you classify them into different groups, and makes it easy to choose who sees what. It’s one of those features that makes you wonder why Facebook never offered it.”

Facebook does have that. I have a group specifically for people from work and a group that’s specifically family, so I can share old family photos with just family, for example. Maybe Google+ makes it more obvious, but Facebook does have this.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Facebook does offer it

For whatever reason, Facebook has always had trouble getting people to adopt things like Groups and Lists for their friends

For me, the reason was obvious. Facebook flat out made it difficult to create and use groups. Maybe you figured it out so that it would be useful or maybe they’ve made it easier since the last time I tried, but I recall trying to set up a group a while back and eventually asking myself why was something that should be so simple, so hard?

I’m not sure where I picked this up, but I seem to recall one of Zuckerberg’s driving principles for Facebook was openness. Everybody should share everything. While this may have worked at the beginning to get people onto the site, I think that this “principle” lies at the room of a lot of the privacy concerns people have with Facebook. So, if Google can take the lessons learned from Facebook and address one of its bigness weaknesses (privacy and controlling one’s own online persona), then they’re on their way to success.

Also, I don’t see the transition from Facebook to another service being that big a deal. As long as my close circle of friends have accounts — i.e. the people who post updates that I actually want to read about rather than ones about someone I knew in highschool eating a ham sandwich today with mustard instead of mayo — then I could see myself using the service.

IshmaelDS (profile) says:

Re: Facebook does offer it

I was going to post the same thing. I have groups for different subject matter, like religious debates that I know make some people uncomfortable, tech talk that makes others eyes glaze over, etc. I have hope for Google+ and would love an invite as I’m a current user of Buzz(though not many of my friends use it) and was hoping that it would take off as I go there all the time to check my mail anyway.

Ragaboo (profile) says:

Re: Facebook does offer it

Exactly. For all of the privacy concerns people have regarding Facebook, and all of the credit Google is getting for Circles … Facebook did that a loooong while ago. Maybe they didn’t publicize it enough, but I have tons of groups, all with different permissions. I have Facebook groups for people I don’t know (I used to be semi-famous in a very small niche on the Internet, so I get randos), people who I trust with anything and everything, people who get offended by anti-religious humor, people who like to talk politics, and so forth. So, yeah … you’re wrong on this one, Mike, unless I’m missing something.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Finally!

That depends on if you think that online socializing is not “real” socializing.

I get it. I still feel the divide. Others I know feel an even bigger divide. But others – especially people who have had the internet around for their whole lives – seem genuinely confused by the notion that using facebook would be considered anything other than socializing.

Not long ago, phone calls weren’t considered “real” socializing. Very VERY recently, texting was not considered real socializing (and still isn’t by many many people). How can you draw a line in the sand where you got comfortable? The world continues to change.

MrWilson says:

I’m all in for Google+ as soon as I get my invite. I’ve been looking for a Facebook competitor and unfortunately the buzz around smaller projects like Diaspora were just teases due to the length of the development cycle.

Watching the demo videos, Google+ does a lot of the stuff that I’ve wanted Facebook to do (or do better) and it’s by a company I trust a lot more than Facebook. Considering how much I use other Google products, it will likely interface more easily with my digital life than Facebook ever did.

Unfortunately, Google is a little slow sometimes with releasing a good Android app for its services, but when it finally does, the app is better than most of the third-party apps that came out first to fill the gap.

Best of all, I’ve never given Google a dime of my own money. That’s using “free as a part of a business model” FTW.

People reference Google Wave as a failed social network, but I never got the impression it was an attempt at creating a social network. It was collaborative software, which it actually did well. I used it for a few projects with coworkers and it was great for tracking decision-making and project version history.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So THAT’S it. I just figured Google had just decided to randomly make their site even more annoying. Again.
I guess this also explains those stupid-looking “+1” buttons that appeared next to every single search result the other day, but are inexplicably gone now.

Normally I’d just use so I don’t have to look at all that meaningless garbage, but it’s been giving me “automated query” errors for days now.

Bas Grasmayer (profile) says:

Also Google does something that Facebook hasn’t been able to:

Google makes people think carefully about sharing something to specific people instead of the whole world.

Facebook makes people think carefully about sharing something with the whole world instead of specific people.

And we all know which of these two tactics Facebook has had its eye on for ages now.

Danny (user link) says:

While it sounds like a good starting point...

…its going to take more than “we aren’t facebook” to sustain Google+. Claiming to be the (insert leading brand) killer is not enough to take down said leading brand. I’m reminded of a comic I saw a few weeks ago showing an iPhone and another phone coming up claiming to be the iPhone killer. Well then second comes up making the same claim, and another, and another, etc. Then all the iPhone killers start fighting amongst themselves, all the while the iPhone just whistles as it walks away…

Joe Publius (profile) says:

I admit FB that’s not FB is still not likely to draw me in. Every time I think about social networking, I think of some kind of chore where you feel obligated to put stuff up for its own sake.

I know, it’s my baggage, but in the end, I’ve lived a happier life knowing that I’ve never felt forced to interact with people because of some smartphone or website poking me at all hours.

BeeAitch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is exactly how I feel about social networking. I have never had a FB account, and said I never will. However, increasingly it seems employers, possible project collaborators, and others seem to require one. I feel I can trust Google more than FB, so this service may be the one that finally drags me, kicking and screaming, into the social web. Grrr…

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Google's Fourth?

Well I don’t care much about any kind of social networks.

Twitter is basically shouting into a desert full of other shouting people.

Facebook creeps into your life, reads your letters and looks in your drawers to see if you have something interesting in there for their advertisers.

Myspace is pretty much a music portal now.

Friendster only limited popularity.

Same with Orkut.

I don’t see how Google’s Google+ or even Diaspora are going to bring to the table that makes it actually relevant.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

The things I hate about facebook ...

It took all my yahoo email addresses and imported them, that wasn’t a problem, the emailing 2,000 people invites was. Everything facebook does is about increasing its userbase not about giving its users a better experiece.

Everything that should be simple in facebook and one click takes digging through level upon level of crap. Its not intuitive. I think this is where google+ is going to win.

Farmville, Mafia wars, Would You Sleep With Me, etc … ick … I see these moving over to google after apps are allowed.

Davey says:

Seems like a good shot.

If Google can offer a more open, less rapacious alternative to Facebook, I’d say they have an excellent shot. They have the resources and smarts to make something that works as well or better without the burden of being Facebook.

The article and comments all seem to assume that their only way forward would be to convert Facebook users to their new offering. Facebook users are still a small minority of computer users. There’s a huge uncommitted market of folks who might be interested in what Google Plus has to offer without the well-placed fear of privacy invasion, out-of-control spam and scam, information selling, and all the other impressions that keep people away from Facebook.

If I were Google I’d sell this as just another Google service you can trust. You don’t have to talk about it being another Facebook, because Facebook users don’t have to be the market.

ShellMG says:

I’ve been pushing Google+ buttons for about an hour. The clean interface is nice and the privacy controls are very specific — I don’t feel like I’m constantly running around playing “Whack-a-Mole” trying to keep them in line. I’ve only got a couple of friends there at the moment, but the lack of ads is a welcome change.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Thoughts on Google+

Like many others, I’ve been playing with Google+ for a day or so now and think it has definite potential.

The reason Circles differs from FB friend Lists is that Google have made Circles central to the entire experience. Yes, FB has had Lists for a long time, but they’ve always been an optional extra that most people ignore. G+, by contrast, gives people 4 Circles by default (Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Following), makes it easy to create new ones, and provides a nice, oddly *fun* interface for managing them. The *only* way to connect with someone is to add them to at least one of your circles (like Lists, the details of the circles themselves are private, but you can choose to share the aggregate information as to who is in your circles).

They still have some kinks to work out in the way the privacy settings, sharing and circles interact, but what they have now is an *excellent* starting point in helping users to feel in control of who can see what they post (and doing so in a way that is more straightforward and integrated than the FB Lists experience).

They also make it easy to list your non-G+ using friends for your own benefit, so you can automatically connect with them if they join up, as well as easily passing information along to them directly via email when that is appropriate (although again, here, some of the defaults need tweaking to avoid inadvertent spamming by inexperienced users).

As to why they shut invites down, my assumption is that it is the feedback system that was dying rather than G+ itself. I never noticed any problems at all with the actual site, but the feedback tool was definitely struggling at times (and, of course, dealing with all that feedback is ultimately constrained by the number of *people* Google have available for the task rather than anything to do with how many servers they can through at the problem of allowing people to accept it).

ThatAVGuy (profile) says:

There was an invite Loophole

I had a friend posting on FB yesterday adding as many people as he could to G+ through an exploit loophole. Which got shut later in the day – Wouldn’t suprise me if they ended up with more people than expected

I am looking forward to trying out G+ – FB is slow, cluncky and far to open for my liking. I would be more interested in a desentralized social network, but currently there’s not one that I know of that has enough of a userbase to look into

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