Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Google+ Vs Facebook: Separate But Integrated Services

Since Google+ launched several weeks ago, it has been fairly universally praised, yet it has also been doubted and questioned extensively. Can Google+ compete with Facebook and its myriad of over 700 million users (and growing)? Many have wondered if Google, an algorithmic company at its core, has the talent and engineering skills to produce a product that is used in a very different way than traditional search. Although I believe that Google+ will have a slow start, I also feel that the product will ultimately become not only a viable alternative to Facebook, but a better one. There is one major advantage that Google has over Facebook: separate, yet tightly integrated services.

For years, Google has been slowly moving our lives to the cloud. Gmail, although not the top email service, is used and loved by millions of people around the globe. Next, our calendars became available online, easily synced to any computer or device. Google Docs now stores and provides access to almost any file type imaginable without ever leaving the browser. Google Pictures (Picasa), YouTube, Reader, Tasks, Maps, the list goes on. Ultimately, these are separate, yet tightly integrated services. If you need directions, you access Google Maps; events take us to Google Calendar; email to Gmail. Yet within all of these services, although they appear to be distinct and separate, there is an element of connectivity. For example, Google Calendar integrates well with Gmail: we can send and receive invites seamlessley and access our contacts. The same goes for Google Docs.

You may be wondering what this has to do with Google+ or Facebook. My point is that the average user wants separate but integrated services. They want to be able to access their email without seeing their documents; they want to plan a trip without seeing YouTube videos. This is where Facebook falls short. Even with only a few "clones" of Google products, Facebook is starting to become crowded - a fact that many users are now complaining about. Facebook Messages, Events, Groups, Video Chat, regular chat, group chat, fan pages, and many other apps and services are slowly crowding a News Feed that was once a stream of updates from friends. There's only so many features that can fit on a single page and Facebook seems to be running out of white space. Google, although it has probably ten times more services than Facebook, does not feel crowded at all. All of Google's products are separated out into distinct web applications rather than crammed onto the same page. As I mentioned: separate but integrated services.

Now let's take into account social. For Facebook, social means having a base social platform and adding services to it. For Google, social means taking a base set of services and adding social to them. This is a key difference that I believe will ultimately benefit Google. If users can access their notification bar on every Google product (something Google is beginning to do already), social is not only more easily accessible, it is practically jumping out at users. Facebook has limited reach in these terms. Yes, they can have their own notifications as text messages or emails, but you will never see Facebook notifications as you surf the web, plan events on your calendar, or type documents in the cloud. Google already has these products, now it just needs to tightly integrate social into them just like they've integrated their existing products already.

So why do I think Google+ will have a slow start? For many users, moving to a new platform is a big change. The current dilemma facing Google+ seems to be the lack of users (although they are purposefully limiting it). It's a catch-22 of "I won't join until my friends join" and vice versa. However, Google, with its multitude of products can really begin to make not joining Google+ feel like missing out. When the notification bar is always a click away, I think it will become more and more tempting for non-users to give in and sign up. Google can have retention through integration. For Facebook, retention means keeping users on Facebook.com and no where else; for Google retention is becoming synonymous with opening a web browser.

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