In the world of social media, it seems like nothing is static. Just a few years ago, MySpace was the undisputed leader, but it wasn’t long before Facebook took the lead, and now MySpace is all but irrelevant. But does this mean the battle is over, and Facebook wins?
Google doesn’t think so. The search giant is in the midst of rolling out its own social network called Google+ that is taking direct aim at Facebook’s social media dominance. Available thus far only to a small group of select invitees, Google+ is still in the beta phase, but expect to see widespread rollout over the next few months.
Innovative New Social Features
Google is not merely replicating a Facebook-type interface, but is offering some unique new features that will set it apart from the current industry leader. These include:
One of people’s biggest issues with Facebook is that everything, more or less, is shared with every one of your friends—and sometimes with their friends. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, seems to embrace everything being public as a philosophical position, thus making that an area where Facebook is not likely to change.
With Circles, Google+ will allow you to create smaller groups of friends with shared interests or backgrounds. You can then share content within one or more groups, or across your whole network of friends, depending on who you want to see it. No more worrying about the boss seeing your Friday night party pictures , or your parents hearing an angry political rant from your slightly-unstable but lovable friend.
This is a multi-channel video chat feature that you can tailor to specific friends or circles, or open it to everyone. Just let your selected audience know you’re hanging out and see who drops by for a chat. While this seems to be aimed at the Facebook chat function, it’s definitely more social with its video and group elements. Still, it looks like the least exciting element of the whole Google+ project.
This is where Google+ could really shine. Since it’s from Google, the Internet search element is going to be tightly integrated into the social network, something that Facebook simply can’t offer. Add a list of interests (music, fashion, food, travel) and Sparks will supply your page with a regularly-updated stream of relevant content from around the Web. The more specific you are in your interests, the more tailored the content will be. And there will probably be some sort of rating functionality to help Google provide stuff you’ll really want to see. The more you use it and the more Google gets to know you, the better Sparks will work.
Another exciting feature, Huddle is a mobile-integrated group text platform, where you can select a group of friends (one of your Circles, say) that will all be included on a single screen. Perfect for when you’re trying to organize a group activity like meeting up at a restaurant, figuring out what movie to go see, or tracking down friends in a crowded spot like a concert or festival.
The biggest hurdle Google+ faces is the obvious one: Facebook. The simple fact is that Facebook is where your friends are, and that’s why you use it so much. Even if Google+ proves to have great new features, if it doesn’t have people you care about, you’re not going to make the switch. And getting everyone to move, en masse, to a new social network is a dicey proposition.
Google’s best bet is to create a huge buzz about the project, make sure everything works smoothly, and emphasize the extensive privacy controls. Privacy is the monkey on Facebook’s back. And with the apparent rollout of its new Happening Now feature, Facebook looks to be opening a new can of privacy worms and alienating roughly 100% of its so-far small test audience. In fact, this might be the perfect time for Google to launch Google+.
Still, Facebook is positioned very strongly as the industry leader, and as much clout as Google can bring to the table, it’s not going to be easy to knock Facebook off. The big question is: Is there room for two major social networks to survive side-by-side, or is one destined to fail?
Let us know your thoughts. Will Facebook prevail? Or can Google use its innovations and search-integration to create the new must-have social media experience? And if you’re already using Google+, what do you think?