Google’s Insurgency Against Facebook

The Next Facebook Revolution

Google is in the process of mounting a veritable uprising against Facebook. Social networking, some of you will think, is a waste of time much of the time. But post-Cairo, even casual observers understood that it is an increasingly important waste of time.

The don’t-be-evil-company has unleashed what it hopes is a Facebook-killing app, called “Google Plus.” That was about two weeks ago. By now, the new platform is surging towards an impressive 20m users to raving reviews, although the initial push may be slowing. But keep in mind that the leash isn’t fully loose yet: Google+ is still in a beta-version, by-invitation-only. So should Mark Zuckerberg be afraid of a hard punch in the teeth?

Yes, is the answer. And his company deserves it.

Here a five reasons why Google is likely to catch up fast, and why Facebook has a serious problem.

First come privacy and trust: Facebook has more than 600m users in many countries. You say Google+ will never come close? Maybe. But consider that Facebook has succeeded in pissing off many millions of these users with cryptic privacy settings that change by the hour. Honest users of the social network will have to admit to the occasional feeling that Zuckerberg’s company just treats them like idiots, stealing personal information from them and not giving it back. Dumb banner ads didn’t help here.

But there’s a second feature that smells like Microsoft: Facebook is just not a high-quality product. Witness the botched attempt to offer migrating “profiles” into “pages”, or the platform’s practically defunct email integration, or the strangely counter-intuitive way of installing “applications,” or grouping your “friends” into different sub-sets. The contrast to Google+’s sleek features could hardly be starker, like drag-and-dropping contacts into “circles”, posting updates to specific recipients, or just intuitively understanding how the system works. Larry Page and Sergey Brin‘s social network has much work to do, but the beta version is pretty impressive already.

Third: true, coming late is bad for a social media platform. But there’s a bright flipside to coming late. Most Facebook users made the same annoying mistake: accepting masses of people as “friends” who are in fact strangers, flakes, high-school left-behinds, or all of the above. So a fresh start may be welcome. And Google+ lets you arrange and rearrange persons in “circles” without these users knowing which circle they’ve just been dumped in, only that they are in one of them. So you might well be rotting in your “friend’s” arsehole circle and not even know it, more like in real life.

Fourth, Google’s system combines time-tested features of Twitter and Facebook in a unique way: you can post publicly, follow others, or send more closely held messages to real friends and family, even by email if they don’t use socially awkward things like an online social network. Potentially very useful for professional purposes.

But the real one-two punch is what Google has long called Data Liberation. The principle is easy: giving users maximum control of their data. Google understood that clever users stay as long as they can leave. In other words, if an Internet company transparently allows me to withdraw all my personal data from its systems and then delete my account, then I will precisely not want do that – and vice versa. Imagine Facebook would allow you to export your contacts, emails, and stream data in a standardized format. Then you might want to stay. But well, it doesn’t.

It’s time to join the insurgency. How about adding Zuckerberg, already the most-followed member of Google+, to your personal Losers-circle?

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11 thoughts on “Google’s Insurgency Against Facebook

  1. Patrick says:

    “So you might well be rotting in your “friend’s” arsehole circle and not even know it, more like in real life.” Brilliant Thomas! I might just join!

  2. Edward says:

    One can read this sort of fashionable, self-preening technology nonsense all over the internet; I don’t know why it belongs here too. The author refers to himself as “clever” – the implication being those who don’t share his fetish for “standardised formats” etc. are at best of only moderate intelligence. The whole thing drips with hipster contempt for the average user, who makes “annoying mistakes” and so on. This resentment, I suspect, stems from the latter persistently ignoring his chic opinions – by, say, continuing to use the best operating system in the world regardless of how many times bien pensants aim a vacuous and disabused sneer in its direction.

    • Thomas says:

      Edward, fair points. Mind you: the author (me, that is) is also an average user who made these annoying mistakes, sometimes quite dumb ones, not “clever” at all. Just one question to you: why should standardised formats be a “fetish” on the web while we take them for granted once we buy screws, tires, glasses, paper, even bullets?

  3. Charles says:

    If Google’s other attempts at things are anything to go by (Chrome, Android, Nexus, Gmail, etc), then Google+ should be a strong performer…

  4. Anthony says:

    While the application is not new, there seems to be a lot of buzz being generated recently by another threat to Facebook – LinkedIn (a.k.a. Facebook for Grown-Ups). Intended to facilitate professional networking, the site apparently has over 100 milion subscribers. From my limited experience it seems well suited to keeping track of one’s professional colleagues without being inundated by the “I’m letting out the cat” spam that turns people off of Facebook. It also allows the formation of interest groups, including (inter alia) King’s War Studies grads.

  5. ………………………………………………………………Update …Facebook is all about openness and data portability as long as that doesnt involve openness or portability of data it seems..Today they wrote a long 7 paragraph blog post to get a across Facebook has banned Googles access to the Facebook API .Now that Google has launched Friend Connect we ve had a chance to evaluate the technology. We ve found that it redistributes user information from Facebook to other developers without users knowledge which doesn t respect the privacy standards our users have come to expect and is a violation of our Terms of Service.

  6. Courtside says:

    Your second point isn’t as well-taken as your others. Google has, if anything, a longer and more quixotic history of overhyped and promptly abandoned projects, including several that are partially integrated into G+ – Buzz, Contacts, Wave, and the old Google Profiles, to name a few.

    G+ starts from a much better basic platform, but it’s no more immune to feature creep than any other social network. Google will make mistakes in implementation – the question is how well they recover, not how few they make. So far, Facebook has recovered well from most of its mistakes. It remains to be seen We’ll see if that’ll change in their first post-G+ fumble.

    My impression is that as nice as G+ is, it’s not quite as convenient to casual use as facebook, and ultimately presents more of a threat to Twitter.

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