Friday, July 8, 2011

Can Facebook and G+ Coexist?

Cartoon showing baby representing New Year 190...
I recently read an article that posited that Facebook and and Google's new plus service could somehow split the social networking space between them. Frankly I don't see how that can happen. Besides Facebook the only social networking sites with any traction as I write this are niche players like LinkedIn. MySpace was just sold for chump change and is all but forgotten. I'll go out on a limb here and say that the same will be true of G+ or Facebook a few years from now. I think this is a case where "There can be only one".

Right now Facebook is the place where almost everyone I want to communicate regularly with hangs out. I was never on MySpace, but I'm going to assume it had a similar feel/vibe at its height. Then Facebook came along. First it was College students but then they expanded to include everyone and eventually a tipping point was reached where there were enough people on Facebook that it became the default place to be and MySpace was for all intents and purposes dead because most of us just want one place we can go to post about our great/lousy/cool/whatever day and find out what our friends and family are up. Having to make those kinds of updates in more than one place is not enjoyable.

So to me this battle comes down to one question. Can Google build enough momentum to reach that tipping point where just over 50% of the people I want to keep in touch with make it their primary place to hang out. If that day comes Facebook will be in a lot of trouble.

I've been playing around with G+ for a few days now and I have to say it's growing on me. I use Google's various other tools extensively and the integration of G+ into Gmail alone is a huge advantage for Google. Every time I check my email I'll see an icon in the upper right corner that tells me that my G+ feed has had some activity. I can that click on that notification and get a quick and concise view without even having to go to the G+ site. That includes being able to read text from other peoples responses.

On the other side of this equation Facebook's rollout of Skype has been yet another example of their inability to understand my feelings in regards to what is appropriate. Right now I have a big pane on the right side of my Facebook screen entitled "A Faster Way to Message" that gives me two options. "Learn More" or "Try it Now". There is no "I don't care, go away" option. That bugs me, big time. Facebook has been smacked several times for defaulting to "opt out" on new services that infringed on their users privacy. I suppose it could be characterized as progress that in this case they are forcing people to make an informed decision but frankly I'm going to click on "Learn More", read as little as I can and then assuming it is possible I'll disable the feature.

OK, so it's probably clear who I'm rooting for at the moment. That could change as things develop though and I'm only one vote. It will take hundreds of millions of people moving to decide things in Google's favor.

This is an example of why it's bad to regularly be doing things that annoy your customers. You may be able to get away with it when you're the only credible player in a market but the minute another one comes along the market can turn against you quickly. Our relationships to companies have a lot of similarities to our relationships with people. If we feel victimized and taken advantage of we're not going to stick around if something better or even just different comes along. It remains to be seen if this is the situation that Facebook finds themselves in though.

Zuckerberg's recent criticisms of G+'s Circles are apropos and fair though. The fact that only the creator of a circle knows who is in it does have the potential to cause confusion and frustration for those who might, or might not be in a particular circle. Time will tell how much of an issue that is and whether Google addresses it in some way.

I think it's going to be begin to be clear which way this race is going by New Years. That's fast even in tech time but I don't think Google's window of opportunity is all that long here.

Image via Wikipedia
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