Facebook and Google+ are now churning out updates, improvements and features at a breathless clip. It’s an all-out, gloves off scramble to claim the biggest prize of all: the future of the social Internet.
When Facebook and Google+ to war, who wins and who loses? The answer is that users win and Twitter loses.
Among combatants, Facebook is “winning,” mainly because it grew to massive proportions right when social networking went mainstream. You can’t argue with 800 million users, or whatever they’ve got. And they’re likely to keep growing.
But the current tsunami of updates broadly favors the underdog, Google+. Here’s why.
What’s Wrong with the Facebook Updates
Facebook has been rolling out changes at an unprecedented pace in the past week, with many more to come in the next few days that will transform Facebook into a media platform.
Many of these changes feel like me-too copycat features. For example, a new Subscribe feature breaks the longstanding “friend” concept, where both parties had to agree on the connection relationship.
Now, people can “subscribe,” which is like circling someone on Google+ or following someone on Twitter.
An improved “Friends” list gives even more Google+-like flexibility about who sees what.
The new Facebook looks and functions a lot like Google+ and Twitter side-by-side. Down the middle, a wide lane gives you Google+-like posts and pictures. On the right, a narrow un-censored stream showing short versions of posts feels like Twitter.
The big difference is that Facebook’s notorious EdgeRank algorithm appears to be playing an even more central role in the new changes. The main feed is heavily EdgeRanked, with Facebook voodoo deciding what you see by default, and what you don’t, based on your relationship with the poster, activity by other users (Likes, comments, and others) and your past engagement with similar content.
It helps that a drop-down menu on the upper right of each post lets you affect future EdgeRank activity. For example, you can choose to get all content from the person who posted the item.
Still, algorithmic censorship is one of Facebook’s sole remaining functional differences. Both Twitter and Google+ display 100% of the posts from people followed or circled, while Facebook displays some unknown subset of those posts.
In general, there’s a great deal of confusion about the Facebook changes. Even grizzled technology veterans are publicly scratching their heads, and expressing exasperation. And a majority of users apparently dislike the changes. At post time, the blog Mashable found in a survey that 74% of respondents “hate it” and just 12% “love it.”
It helps to slot the Facebook changes into two categories. The first category could be called “Changes that make Facebook more like Google+.” These include subscriptions, news feed tweeks, friending options and other related changes. They also include bigger pictures and increased character limit on posts (from 500 to 5,000).
The second category could be called “Changes that make Facebook a media platform.” These include a new Wall Street Journal app, as well as expected integration with a host of services that enable the streaming and sharing of music, movies, TV shows and other content. These should be announced tomorrow (Thursday).
Both categories are problematic for the majority of Facebook users.
Facebook has succeeded in doing something Twitter has never been able to do, and Google+ may never do: Attract the non-geeky masses.
Facebook’s biggest attraction is that everybody is on it — mom, cousin, grandma, old high school buddies. As a result of this broad appeal, the average Facebook user isn’t the social-media savvy uber nerd that predominates on Google+.
Most Facebook users just want to interact with family and friends. They don’t want to learn anything. They don’t want a more powerful platform. They don’t want Facebook to be more like Google+.
Most Facebook users just want to post their thoughts, feelings and personal events to Facebook and have family and friends enjoy them. And they want to see similar posts by their family and friends.
The good news for Facebook is that the Google+ catch-up changes won’t really affect most users in the long run. They’ll acclimate to the new Facebook, and can ignore these new options, for the most part.
However, the changes that transform Facebook into a media platform will be harder to ignore. While many people want to share music, movies and TV shows, I suspect that most people don’t want to be “spammed” with the shares of others.
In fact, apps for sharing content already exist, and they’re generally despised on the service.
What’s Right about the Google+ Updates
While Facebook’s updates feel to many like fixing what ain’t broke, Google+ changes are all about fixing what was definitely broke, or incomplete.
The biggest irony of Google+ was that the search engine giant’s social network had no search. Well, you could search for people, but not post content. So the addition this week of real search was all upside.
Second, Google’s popular Hangouts group video chat feature got some powerful new capabilities, including mobile apps versions and broadcasting. In the near future, users will be able to have an interactive hangout with nine people, while live-broadcasting the conversation to a very large number of people.
Google also enabled live Google Docs sharing, a “Sketchpad” for drawing things that all can see, and screen sharing. The Hangouts are, like Search, all upside and no downside.
Google also opened the service to anyone — no invitation required. They also rolled out APIs this week, which will enable developers to build on the Google+ platform.
It’s starting to look like a long war, with neither Facebook nor Google backing down, backing off or ceding ground to the other. For the forseeable future, the social wars will be all about Google+ attacking and Facebook defending. And together, they will bury Twitter.
Welcome to the new social web. It’s a bloody battlefield. Like?