The launch of Google Plus has not been without it’s ironies. Whilst the identity of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s account in Google’s social networking site Google+ (Google Plus) remained a mystery until Google launched a verification procedure, this account easily bagged the most number of early followers. As of 21st August, the Mark Zuckerberg account in Google+ stood at over 470,000 followers whilst that of MySpace founder Tom Anderson, despite Anderson being an active poster on Google Plus, stood at a mere 109,000. Zuckerberg has achieved this without posting a single public post on Google Plus, thus possibly marking the final victory of Facebook over Myspace!
More seriously, is Google Plus the real deal after several false starts by Google in it’s efforts to be a major social networking platform?
Prior to the launch of Google Plus, all the momentum seemed to be with Facebook. Facebook effectively launched its own email address option for users with it’s facebook.com address option for messaging and also was expanding it’s quasi search-engine capacity in what was seen as an attempt to push further into Google’s domain. Facebook ads have also become an increasingly popular alternative to Google Ads for online advertisers. Facebook has also announced the launch of a Video Chat feature on its platform with the help of Skype, one of the most popular internet telephony services. According to Facebook’s own stats, it now has over 750 million active users. As is often said, if Facebook was a country it would have the third largest population on the planet.
Under such an onslaught, it would have been naive to expect Google to remain passive. It has certainly hit back hard with Google Plus. At it’s initial launch, which of these major internet platforms had the most sign-ups in the first month?: 1) Google Plus; 2) Myspace; 3) Youtube; 4) Facebook; 5) Ebay; 6) Twitter?
Well, despite being an invitation only platform, Google Plus hit 20 million unique users around the world within it’s first three weeks, according to figures from online measurement company Comscore, making it the comfortable winner and was topping 25 million users by the first week of August. Of course that still leaves Google some way behind its social networking rivals. Twitter has more than 300 million users and Facebook’s 750 million. Even the more exclusive LinkedIn reports it now has 120 million members.
Google Plus has easily been Google’s best attempt to establish itself as a major Social Media player with some saying this will be the beginning of the end for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. But after an explosive start, latest reports suggest a slowing down in the pace of Google Plus’s expansion. The fact that Google Plus’s success continues to be measured against that of Facebook is part of it’s dilemma as it cannot truly be viewed as having succeeded when it is continually being compared to Facebook rather than being viewed as an entity with an identity in it’s own right.
Google Plus has certainly tapped into a strong current of dissatisfaction with Facebook over issues such as privacy, some spammy applications which can bamboozle all but the most informed of it’s users, it’s attitude over allowing users to be randomly added to groups without their consent (groups that can then spam your wall without your knowledge or permission until you block them) and some very intrusive adverts. Time will tell whether this will be looked back on as just a protest vote against Facebook for it to get it’s house in order or whether this will mark a seismic migration from Facebook towards Google Plus.
Critics of Google Plus state it is a rip-off of Facebook, but is that really so? Being a late comer has it’s advantages. Perhaps Google Plus is successfully combining the best features of Facebook and of Twitter. This is most obviously the case with Google Plus’s Circles feature which enables users to choose who they want to connect with (as they can largely do when choosing who to follow on Twitter), rather than waiting to be approved as a friend thus ending the requirement for mutual “friending” for access to profiles and posts. The Circles feature is also easy to use when a user wants to limit a post to a selected group or groups of connections.
A further not inconsequential factor is the effect of a Google Plus presence, allied with the use of the Google Plus +1 share button, on search engine optimization given Google’s power in this sphere. If it’s impact is going to be stronger than that of Facebook then this could give Google Plus an edge over Facebook – websites would be incentivized to integrate +1 buttons more than Like buttons if that provided the bigger boost to search results. Better search opportunities will be at the core of any business’s choice over whether to be more active on Google Plus or Facebook. After all, the most important thing about online marketing is attracting traffic to your site and businesses are said to be eagerly anticipating the next phase of Google Plus’s expansion.
Does this paint a dark picture for Facebook’s future? A small but influential number of internet marketers and analysts have proclaimed this to be the beginning of the end for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Some have even closed their accounts to move over to Google Plus, but Facebook still has a lot going for it.
Although some Facebook apps are discredited many important ones are not. NetworkedBlogs, for instance, is the cornerstone of any serious Blog’s options for being seen and read beyond it’s immediate circle of subscribers. Additionally, businesses and individuals who have invested so much time and effort building their presence and identity on Facebook such as through the use of Facebook Business Pages are unlikely to just close down and move to Google Plus.
Google Plus may have been able to tap in to a wave of dissatisfaction with Facebook from some of it’s users but any advertiser who has been on the receiving end of Google’s notorious slap will hardly look upon Google as a benign and benevolent operator. Nor has Google Plus appeared to have made much impression upon, far less replaced Facebook, in the consciousness of Facebook’s massive teenage user base.
There will be plenty more to come. It was only a matter of time before Google started to integrate Google Plus with YouTube. A new feature that Google has recently built into YouTube allows instant firing up of an online viewing party between you and your nine closest friends or associates through the Google Plus Hangout feature. That’s all thanks to Google’s integration of Google Plus Hangouts directly into YouTube’s video sharing functionality. Over time, as Google Plus expands, you can be sure that the vast array of Google tools will be increasingly added into the Google Plus platform.
No doubt the battle will be joined as both Google Plus and Facebook seek to improve their users’ experiences with both attempting to learn from and outdo each other. For the time being it is to be welcomed that social media users once again have a serious choice of social media platforms instead of the monopoly which had the field virtually to itself until recently. A foot in both camps remains the best option for the foreseeable future, though in the longer term there will come a point where one of them will have the upper hand.
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