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?