Commentators have called Google+ a “Facebook copycat”, a “ghost town”, even “dead”. But almost a year after it launched, Google’s platform is still there. And it’s doing pretty well: according to numbers cited by Google this morning, more than 170 million people have now upgraded to Google+. Admittedly, that’s only a fifth of Facebook’s user base, but that’s still a pretty impressive figure, especially in the light of Google’s previous attempts at social media, such as Google Buzz.
Google+ vs. Facebook: Different Philosophies, Goals
Just like the iPad invented and defined the tablet category, Facebook pretty much started social media. In many ways, just like Apple in the tablet market, it also remains an undisputed leader. There sure were platforms with social features before Facebook (MySpace, Friendster, …) but none ever had the scale that Facebook now has (845 million monthly active users as of December 2011). Also, no other platform has redefined the way the Internet works like Facebook has.
If you look at things that way, I guess you can say that Google+ is Google’s response to Facebook. Google+ is indeed Google’s attempt to challenge Facebook in the way it is reshaping the Internet. But truth be told, the philosophy that formed the foundation of Google+ is much different than the one (or lack thereof) that started Facebook and I certainly agree with Google+ VP of Product Development Vic Vungora when he says that people are looking at Google+ the wrong way. Google+ is a platform, not a network. It is a social layer that connects Google’s products and users. In fact, Google sees Google+ as Google 2.0; it sees it as THE product, not just another product.
Facebook’s goal is to integrate more and more services to a platform that already has a large user base. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram this week is the perfect illustration of that. Google’s goal with Google+, on the contrary, is to get more people to use their platform as a hub to products they’re already using. Google is after new users while Facebook is trying to retain the ones it already has and to get them to spend more time on the website. The challenge for Google is now to prove how Google+ is making the whole Google experience more seamless, and generally better. Google can certainly make Google+ successful (in fact it might already have). The search giant has deep pockets, and access to what may just be the best advertising real estate in the world: the Google Search homepage.
The New Google+
Google announced today that it is rolling out a significant redesign for Google+, which will allow users to create a more customized experience on the site. A number of new features will make their way to the platform in the coming days, including a new customizable “ribbon” navigation bar, improved photo navigation and revamped profiles. In addition, Google is introducing a new “Explore” page that will aggregate posts and topics that are trending on the platform.
Profile pages look a lot more like the new Facebook Timeline design, with a big banner photo on top and a chat list on the side. A dedicated Hangouts page has also been added to the site, so that users can have quick access to the public and On Air video chats. Is that a sign of the convergence of the two contenders? I don’t think so. Quite frankly, I’m not even sure Facebook and Google+ are even contenders. But the good news is that the two platforms envy and inspire each other. It will be interesting to see how they evolve in the future. My bet is on apps, which I think are a huge trend (they already are on mobile). Google already has a lot of them; it just needs to integrate them better with its platform.