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Google+, Day 27: Comparing Google+ with Facebook

Google+ has some unique qualities that are missing in Facebook, but the two seem more alike than different.

30 Days With Google+: Day 27

I have spent most of the 30 Days With Google+ series examining Google+ on its own merits as much as possible. When all is said and done, though, I can't ignore the fact that Google+ is a social network competing with other social networks. I dedicated Day 26 of the 30 Days With Google+ series to comparing Google+ and Twitter. Today, I will take a look at Google+ and its most direct competitor--Facebook.

Google+ and Facebook are different social networks, yet they are still alike in many ways. Google has managed to roll aspects of both a Twitter-style social network and a Facebook-style social network into one, but it is more than a little hard to ignore the direct similarities between Google+ and its dominant social networking rival--Facebook.

How They're Alike

Frankly, it might be easier to just focus on how they're not alike. With both Google+ and Facebook I have a network of people that I can share current events, status updates, photos, videos, and interesting links with. Google+ has me put them in Circles, while Facebook has me "Friend" them and separate them into Lists, but either way I am just connecting online with friends, family, and others.

The layout of the two social networks is virtually identical. On both Google+ and Facebook my profile picture appears as a thumbnail at the upper left next to a link that goes to my personal Profile page. At the top of the main window in the middle is a blank box for entering my updates to share with my social network, and beneath that is a stream of the most recent updates from those in my social network. The right pane presents suggested or recommended contacts to add to my social network.

If I took away the actual Facebook and Google+ logos and put the screens side by side, it would be difficult to tell them apart at a glance. The Profile pages are even more alike--with a larger profile pic thumbnail at the upper left and a string of five photos I have been tagged in displayed across the top.

Going beyond the look and feel, the similarities continue. In either Google+ or Facebook, I can click on the status entry box at the top of the page and type something witty, or talk about the jackass who cut in line at Starbucks, or whatever I feel like telling my social network. I can upload a photo (or take a new photo if posting from the mobile app). I can add a URL, and insert my GPS location information, choose who I want the information to be shared with, and post it.

On any given post from those in my social network, I can vote for it--with a +1 on Google+ or by "Liking" it on Facebook. I can comment on the post, and I can share the post--essentially reposting the same post to my own social network.

How They're Different

There are a few major ways that Google+ is unique from Facebook in my mind. The length of the updates, the ability to "Follow" people who aren't really in my social network, the lack of polls, and the Circles concept stand out.

• Post Length. Facebook is like Twitter in that it has established an arbitrary limit on how long my status updates can be. Granted, the maximum on Facebook is significantly higher than Twitter's 140 characters, but I have still frequently run into issues where I have had to cut words and censor my thoughts in order to make it fit on Facebook, or I have had to break my thought up and post the original post followed immediately by a comment on that post where I finish what I was saying.

• "Following". As I talked about at length on Day 26, Google+ also enables me to add people to Circles who aren't necessarily in my personal social network. This behavior is more Twitter-like and it enables me to read posts made public by people I am interested in, but who have no reason to want me in their social network per se.

On Facebook I have two personas--my personal Facebook Profile, and my professional Facebook Page. The Facebook Page provides a similar function by enabling people I don't know to see what I post there and read my updates and articles. But, Google+ lets me accomplish the same thing from a single persona by allowing others to follow the posts I choose to make Public.

• Polls. This is a little one, and even a little bit of a silly one, but Google+ doesn't have the ability to do polls. I like the feature on Facebook. It can be fun to do a poll of favorite movies, or favorite cartoons. It can also have more practical uses, such as listing restaurant choices and taking a poll of a group of friends to figure out where to go for dinner.

• Circles and Privacy. One of the hallmarks of Google+ is Circles, and many feel that the Circles concept is a significant improvement in privacy over the Facebook "Friending" concept.

Personally, I think that segregating the social network this way makes it more complex to manage and introduces a different kind of privacy dilemma--just trying to keep track of the things I tell one Circle that I don't want another Circle to know about, and trying to police when or how that information gets shared between social networking contacts that may overlap. That six degrees of separation thing can be a bitch if you're trying to keep a secret on a public social network.

It is definitely nice to be able to view the incoming streams by Circle, though. I can filter out most of the noise and just read updates from my family, or my best friends, or my co-workers. Here's the thing, though, that many people seem to not realize--this isn't unique to Google+. I can do that on Facebook too and I have been using Lists to filter my social network stream for a very long time.

Not For Long

It is a great idea for Google to roll Google+ out to a limited audience as a sort of final beta to work out any bugs and kinks before really opening the floodgates to the world, but it poses a problem for Google+ as well. The Field Trial also give Facebook an opportunity to see what works and what doesn't and simply roll new features into the rival social network as well.

Facebook has already expanded the maximum characters for a post from 420 to 500, incorporated location tagging at the post level, and changed the name of the Everyone group to Public to more clearly define who that audience is--like Google+. Facebook will soon roll out the ability to not only filter incoming updates based on Lists, but enable me to also select my Lists from the dropdown when I am choosing who to share a post with.

Ultimately, the similarities are a problem for Google+ because users are already established and invested in Facebook, and Google needs to provide people with a compelling reason to switch.

Read the last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With the iPad

Day 26: Comparing Google+ with Twitter


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