Let the games begin. It looks like Google and Facebook are going to fight it out.
Given the spectacular failures of Wave and Buzz, people are of course skeptic about the success of Google Plus. However, I’m rather confident it is going to stay. Here are some things I like about it:
- Privacy: as far as I can tell, Plus design had started with privacy in mind, whereas for Facebook it is still an unloved child, a spare tire. Facebook keeps on getting bad reviews here; people don’t get their UI and mis-share things. I read somewhere that FB is actually losing users in the US: kids who leave Facebook because their parents are getting on, and they don’t want them to see what they shared with their friends.
- UI: the Circles UI is very easy to use. The same functionality on Facebook is awful to manage. And the notifications UI in Plus also are a lot better than the tiny indicator in Facebook.
- New stuff: Hangout and group chats are pretty interesting (well, actually I don’t like Video at all …). This puts pressure on Facebook to move, and it looks like they might present some Skype integration soon. But they need to make this really good to keep up with hangout. Just adding “Call me” buttons for all users that have specified a Skype account in their profile won’t do the trick.
- Future integration: Wave already had many of these things, but the wrong way. You would put a map into a chat; the Plus way will probably be to share a map session with a circle and add chat and collaborative editing there. Google “Office” is another place where it is trivial but very useful to add Plus.
Some people think that Google will not stand a chance against social giant Facebook. But after all, Google has more users - and they have tons of services people like to use. So when Google Maps has Plus integration, will the users use it to chat about where to meet, or will they go the long way and post the map URL on Facebook, without the option of updating it collaboratively?
Googles position is much stronger than many people believe, once you think about integration possibilities. The current Plus is just a fragment, the missing puzzle piece connecting the other apps. But imagine that Google now Plus-connects its various services: YouTube, Maps, Mail, Talk, … - for them, this is just a matter of some engineering. I guess probably half of these are already in internal testing. And Facebook just can’t keep up there. Sure, they do have Facebook Video. But actually, most people prefer YouTube. And while Google can integrate plus all the way there, Facebook cannot. And while Google is the master of search, Facebook is particularly weak there - they can’t even properly search their own data. Google however will at some point offer an “find things that interest me” button; Sparks is just the beginning where you have to manually define your interests (which will probably remain an option due to privacy concerns!); it is way too static right now.
So essentially, Google doesn’t need to copy Facebook. They just need to do what is obvious on their own products, and Facebook will have a hard time keeping up.
Plus, in my opinion, Google got the timing just right. Users aren’t too happy with Facebook these days, there is just no big alternative around anymore; their friends are on Facebook and not on some other social network. Facebook doesn’t seem to evolve much anymore. The mail functionality opened more security holes (apparently you can post to a group with a fake user name when you spoof the senders email address) than it contributed to functionality and usefulness. Privacy is still not in line with all countries such as Germany; but Facebook keeps telling those users essentially that they don’t care. Spam and fraud still reappears every month following the same pattern again and again (Clickjacking). The search function of Facebook is still usually described as “useless” … People waste time in games and annoy their friends with random game invitations and posts. Facebook should better make a major move now, too. More than a demo of Skype integration. But whenever Facebook changed, their users complained …
Of course, Google+ still has a long way to go, too. There are still many things missing here, too. For example groups and events. I figure Google is already testing them in “dogfood”, and they’ll actually come out within the month. With groups I do not refer to the existing Google product, but to what would be “public circles” that you need to join and that are accessible to all the circle members instead of just the creator. And events are also a key function; probably one of the most used on Facebook. These may require much more careful design to integrate well with Calendar. But given the visual update of Calender these days, this may just be around the corner, too.