Google+ or Facebook+ ?

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Google+, other than something that makes a mess of punctuation, is the latest social offering by the mighty Google after the failure of Buzz (AKA The Twitter-Killer) and Wave (nobody knows what this was). This has been touted as the next big thing, a Facebook-killer, and as with anything to do with Google, comes with a lot of hype and hoopla. Here’s a look at what it is and what it’s not and perhaps what it aims to be.

We all understand how difficult it is to wean a generation off from Facebook and on to a new offering unless there is some serious differentiation involved. So, Google has its task cut out and how does it fare? Let’s check out some of it’s well-advertised features –

1) Circles: Nothing more than a circular version of Facebook’s “Lists” feature. Now before I am violently accosted by raving Google fan-atics, I understand that “Circles” are useful in segregating your “friends” in mutually isolated containers so that you can force-feed your latest updates.

While interesting in concept, it’s not that well-implemented. Basically, when you write a post, you have to select the circles you have to share it with – by typing out their names (of course with Google+’s assistance – see what I mean, when I said it messes up punctuation?) or from a drop-down list –

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Of course, one can envisage the problems with such an arrangement. Imagine you have too many circles – which is bound to happen. I have circles for Acquaintances, School Friends, College Friends (3 different ones), Work friends, etc. Each time having to choose is a nuisance, especially if operating from a mobile device!

The Circles page itself is cumbersome to navigate –

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As you can see, it’s a mess. Facebook just needs to add it’s “Lists” option to posts and it’s as good or better than Google’s version.

2) Hangouts: While admittedly a nice concept, I am yet to try this one out. You can do video-chats with up to 10 persons and I find this unwieldy enough in real life, so I cannot understand the viability of this feature. Still, a very handy feature and well-implemented.

3) Sparks: It’s just Twitter trending under a different name.

One wonders if these features are enough to convert a sizeable portion of the 750 million+ patrons of Facebook. It is clear to see that these features are an evolution of existing Facebook features and whether a mere cosmetic change in these features is sufficient, is up for debate.

Of course there is the curious nature of the name “Google+”. Google sees it as an extension and unification of all its services – Docs, YouTube, Mail, Reader, etc – most of which are beta-grade stuff, which is often a pale imitation of stuff that already exists – http://www.timacheson.com/blog/2011/feb/imitations_of_popular_tech_products or services which are not recommended for professional use (as Google themselves advise – http://www.engadget.com/2011/07/07/google-recommends-that-businesses-hold-back-for-now-says-curre/). This presents a unique predicament for the end user in terms of the current trend of companies trying to lock the user in their ecosystem, but that discussion is for another day.

The lack of features and the general pre-launch feel of the service may be dealt with during the actual launch, but so much depends on the success of Google+ that it may make or break Google. Even their only truly successful product – the search engine, stopped innovating (and started borrowing from Bing) a long time ago. New paradigms of Social search, as demonstrated in Bing seem to have woken up Google to the far-reaching importance of social networks and clearly Google+ is an attempt to play catch up to that. But, saying you “+1’d” something doesn’t roll off your tongue the same way as saying you “liked” something. This might also prove detrimental to Google+’s cause.

As it stands, Google+ is worthy social network for a new user (a rare specimen indeed), but it presents little value to existing Facebook users who will also get the benefits of association with Skype, Microsoft and integration into a budding mobile ecosystem – The Windows Phone. From the end-user point of view, one can only hope for success of both Google+ and Facebook networks because monopoly of any sort cannot be a good thing. But, I hope Google can offer more than just “Facebook+” as our only alternative to the ubiquitous Facebook.

— Shishir Bhat

6 thoughts on “Google+ or Facebook+ ?

  1. yes me too completely agreed… it does not have the things which can compete with the booming Facebook except that hangouts in which we hostelites can video chat with people back home

    • Precisely Kishor, hangouts is the only unique feature in the sense that you can chat with multiple persons at once. But I’ve found that Skype video chat is far more reliable than Google video chat for India. Google+ also lacks stuff like –

      1) Document sharing with person/group
      2) Groups
      3) Personal messaging (you have to create a circle with one person or just email him/her)

      And I am against the design paradigm of physically dragging and dropping people into circles… that’s fine for a small number, but eventually becomes a chore.

      • Skype’s video conferencing needs one of the participant to have a premium account….hangout doesnt 🙂 .fb/skype shld do something about that… group video conferencing is actually fun! the idea did sound kinda stupid when i hrd abt it …but its fun once you start exploring… .

        abt G+/Fb… its social media…its about people …individuals… and how they interact…. And people are unpredictable sons of bitches. its so much more than technology …or else Wave wont have gone down the gutters…they need iterations… they need to keep experimenting .. till something actually ‘clicks’..give g+ some time..

        and abt Google going the dark side…..ah well to quote mr. harvey dent “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”… ;p thats how it works in techdom..doesnt it… it gets difficult to keep innovating and changing yourself…once u are as big as Google!

  2. i am having pretty good time in Google+ as well.. not sure why you guys having such hard time liking it.. may be it gets boring if not many close friends are already active on Google+

    • Chetan, it’s not hard to like it. But it offers nothing different to Facebook other than group video chat (which I am sure will come to Facebook soon enough).

      Google+ also has deeper implications. Google+ will work best in the Google eco-system i.e. Chrome and Android. Clearly all companies – Apple, Microsoft and Google are trying to do this, but Google offerings are least platform-agnostic, I feel.

      Google is trying to do what MSFT has done with its “Live” services and build a complete ecosystem around a GMail ID. But it still has a long way to go if it has to match the level of SkyDrive+Office WebApps+Facebook Integration.

  3. @Ashish Patel,

    I agree that Hangout is a standout feature right now. How useful it will turn out be, only time will tell.

    My beef with Google is the smugness and hype they bring to everything they do. After Orkut/Buzz/Wave they still haven’t figured out a way to crack this social-networking nut. Still they overhype their product, diss competitors (mainly MSFT) at every given opportunity and blatantly copy stuff while claiming to be an innovative company. Objectively speaking, MSFT is a far more innovative company with more annual spend on research than Google+Apple, etc yet Google is perceived to be more innovative simply because they talk themselves up.

    Most of the new features of Google search are a copy of Bing. Google Docs is a pale imitation of Office WebApps and Android is a copy of iOS. I wouldn’t trust my data with such an unscrupulous company, but that’s my opinion. Until Google+ offers something substantially different to Facebook, most people won’t be switching. Then there’s also the problem of migrating 100’s of friends and a gazillion photos you have on your profile.

    They are venturing into Social Networking simply because that’s where the money is at, now. They simply have to compete or lose out on their core competencies – Search, Ads and Mail. Social Networking ties up all these services together hence, they have to compete.

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