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Google+, Day 26: Comparing Google+ with Twitter

Today I am taking a look at how Google+ and Twitter are alike, and what sets them apart.

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, Google+ is a social network competing with other social networks, so I would be remiss if I didn't spend some time comparing and contrasting them. So, today I am going to examine how Google+ matches up with Twitter.

Google+ and Twitter are very different social networks, yet they are still alike in some ways. Google has managed to roll aspects of both a Twitter-style social network and a Facebook-style social network into one.

How They're Alike

Both Google+ and Twitter enable a form of virtual stalking called "following". Basically, I can add people to follow who are not really a part of my social network at all, but whose updates and comments are of interest to me. For example, on Twitter I follow accounts like @BillGates and @BarackObama although I am quite sure they are not reciprocating.

The same scenario is possible in Google+. In fact, "Following" is one of the default Circles in Google+ that was there before I even started building my social network. This Circle is specifically intended as a placeholder for users I want to follow, but who I don't necessarily want in any of the more intimate Circles of my Google+ network.

So, on Google+ I have people like +Mark Zuckerberg and +Sergey Brin in my "Following" Circle. Likewise, I only have 129 people in my Circles on Google+, but there are 929 people who have me in Circles. That means there are 800 people who I may or may not know who are ostensibly interested in what I share with the Public even though they are not in my social network per se.

The benefit of this set up is that it provides a platform for broadcasting information and sharing with a much wider audience that goes beyond just family and close friends. Contrast that with Facebook, where I either must add someone as a "Friend" into my social network, or set up a separate Facebook Page that lets strangers stay informed without being in my network, but that requires me to maintain two separate Facebook personas.

How They're Different

While both Google+ and Twitter allow anonymous others to follow someone that isn't really part of their social network, there are some significant differences as well. Specifically, I have noted differences in length, privacy, and audience.

• Length. Twitter is infamous for its 140-character max. That includes the names of any Twitter users I want to specifically direct the message to, the spaces between the words, and any URLs I might link to. 140 characters does not go very far.

The limitation of only having 140 characters to work with has led to an explosion of URL-shortening services like TinyURL and Bit.ly, and to very creative adaptations of the English language in order to shorten things to accommodate the restriction.

Google+ gives me the same opportunity to share updates with people outside of my social network--and the public at large--but without limiting the length of my post. Ultimately, though, this is not a black and white issue with a clear winner.

The Google+ approach is much more flexible, and allows for richer posts, but it can also cause more clutter. The Twitter system is genius in its simplicity, and it fills a unique niche thanks to that annoying 140-character limitation.

• Privacy. On Twitter, I have none. Well, almost none. It is possible to set my Twitter profile up as private where only those I allow are able to see my tweets. I can also just direct message (DM) someone who is following me for a private one on one chat. But, anything I tweet out the normal way is shared with the world--those who are following me will see my tweet in their stream, and anyone else who doesn't follow me can still find and see my tweet by searching Twitter.

Google+, on the other hand, straddles the fence between Twitter and Facebook and enables me to choose on a post by post basis whether the update should be share with the general public, or just my Circles, or just a specific Circle, or maybe even just designated individuals.

From my perspective, it seems like Mark Zuckerberg has not used Google+ at all. But, it's possible that he's posting 100 times a day, but just not sharing those posts with the general public, which means they don't show up for me.

• Audience. Twitter has roughly ten times the audience of Google+ right now. Yes, I realize that Google+ is still in limited "Field Trial" mode, and that it is not a fair comparison. But, even when Google+ launches to the general public, it will still have some catching up to do.

From a marketing or breaking news perspective, Twitter is a more valuable tool--and will continue to be more valuable for quite a while--because it offers a larger audience to broadcast to.

In the end, both Google+ and Twitter offer me the ability to follow others who aren't in my social network, as well as a platform for broadcasting my own updates to those outside my social network who choose to follow me, and to the general public.

I see the difference a little like comparing CNN Headline News to the main CNN channel--Twitter is Headline News and Google+ is CNN. Let me explain.

CNN is a great source of news, and devotes more time to investigating stories, talking with experts, presenting both sides, and diving deeper into the topic at hand. But, if I just want to know what is going on in the world right now, I would rather switch over to Headline News where I can just get the 30-second sound bites that basically announce the headlines and let me know what the breaking news is.

Similarly, both Google+ and Twitter are good sources of information, but Twitter is still better for just keeping up with breaking news and trending topics, while Google+ provides a platform for more comprehensive coverage of those same topics.

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

Day 25: Another Look at Google+ Privacy

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