I’ve been using Google+ for a couple weeks now and there’s really nothing anyone can do to convince me that it isn’t a superior product to Facebook as a social technology. Here’s is just a partial list of where I think Google+ has improved on the social networking experience:
- There are no Friends, Likes or other misleading nomenclature that tries to draw awkward analogies to real life. The exception to this is Hangouts but I give it a pass since it’s actually a very good description of what the feature offers.
- Privacy is so intuitive that you don’t even realize that you’re adjusting privacy settings. It requires almost no explanation and is always at the core of whatever you’re doing.
- Photo sharing, which for some reason is treated with separate sharing controls in Facebook, is handled the same way as all other content and improves upon the newer Facebook photo presentation.
- While Google is very upfront about taking your content and using it to serve you more relevant ads, the Google+ platform isn’t an ad platform. Everywhere else may be pretty soon but they at least let the utility be a utility.
- It’s integrated with some of the best tools on the Web. You don’t have to go to Google+, it comes with you every time you use search, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Reader or any of their other great products.
- It simplifies the purpose of almost all social technology: sharing. This should make a lot of competing technologies very scared.
Unless you’re on Facebook to support your Farmville habit, you can probably recognize most of the superiority of Google+ at the core functionality level. Maybe you have misgivings about Google as a company or you really connect with the rise of Facebook into the dominant media platform that it is today…that’s fine. I still don’t buy any argument that Facebook, which has been around since 2004, has perfected the technology behind personal sharing (though I will give them points for scaling). For now I won’t even get into the implications of brand presence, which is another area where I believe Google+ is positioned to succeed.
So why won’t Facebook just shut down tomorrow?
It’s obviously their volume of active users, which is still about twice what MySpace had at it’s peak. So if Facebook came around and answered all the usability and scaling problems that plagued MySpace and MySpace still managed to be viable for another five years since they began their decline, what does that mean for Facebook in the worst case scenario? If this marks the beginning of the decline of Facebook, will it take ten years for them to begin to really fade into obscurity?
It won’t be 10 years. Facebook changed the fundamental reason people use a social networking site like theirs. By pushing people to build deeper and deeper profiles and making privacy secondary, Facebook made stalking fun for even the non-tech savvy. Compared to MySpace’s fairly simple profiles, you can learn things about people who aren’t even active users that goes far beyond any of the information that previous services asked you for. For some reason people always cling to the idea of someone finding an embarrassing photograph but I was using a service (Turntable.fm, which is great) where someone was trolling and trying to get under the skin of one of the mods of the channel and decided to tap into their Facebook profiles for amo. Since you need a Facebook profile to join Turntable.fm, that person gots plenty of info from the mod’s profile and began insulting his education and threatening to call his employer. As it turns out, the mod worked in PR and probably should’ve known better than to make that info public but should he really have to know how to adjust his privacy settings to prevent malicious stalking?
My theory is that privacy and, more specifically, online stalking becoming even more sophisticated and commonplace will be both the key to Facebook’s longevity and the reason for it’s demise. Google+ has answered this by making privacy a part of the content sharing process. Being concerned about your online privacy is generally theoretical until someone gives you a reason to be genuinely concerned and I think those moments are coming for a large part of Facebook’s user base.