Google+ vs. Facebook. Time to Switch?

Posted by Nikoletta Ventseslavova

Read if: you are a Social Web fan and you want to know more about Google+ and its biggest rival – Facebook.

Today the biggest rival to Facebook is Google Plus. It garnered 10 million users in only two weeks: “Paul Allen, the entrepreneur and founder of Ancestry.com, said that at the present rate of growth, (it) could reach 20 million users by this coming weekend. Bill Gross, another Silicon Valley investor, predicted Google Plus would go “from zero to 100,000,000 users faster than any service in history.” reports the Ottawa Citizen.

The initial Google trends data indicate that the new project is trouncing the older attempts at social networking, Google wave and Google Buzz:

Google+ invitations have become much-prized, because Google+ is available only for those, who have been invited to join by other users.

Here is a little history: Google Wave and Google Buzz, had been buried almost immediately by privacy concerns and the resultant reputation damage. They tried a further onslaught into social networking with two further flops, Friend Connect and the Open Social platform. Facebook decided to hit back by launching Facebook Questions – Google had killed its own Q&A product, a paid service called Google Answers in 2006 – and the social Web war began.

Reasons to switch to Google+

Let’s clarify something – we might be witnessing the death knell of Facebook but it’s not about one site versus another. Google Plus is a project, which will “become a central part of Google’s whole identity, it will reshape the company,”  PC World states. In general, Google+ offers ease-of-use and respect of data privacy.

What Google+ actually does:

Integration is the ace-in-the-hole. All the networking features and tools are integrated into existing Google products, from Search to Documents and Pictures to Video. This lets the user monitor all Google +  events (like updates, messages and emails, notifications, etc.) without leaving  the Google service he/she is using. Leaving the site to go to Facebook or other sites will soon become inconvenient.

Reuters explains some of the integration plans for Google+:

“Nearly all Google websites, such as its flagship Google.com search engine and the Google maps site, will have a special toolbar running across the top of the page. The toolbar has an icon of your face alongside your name in the top left, to remind you that you are currently logged on to the Google Plus network. Click on your name and you can quickly log off the network, or switch to incognito mode.”

Better social organization

Designed around users’ +Circles, Google attempts to more closely mirror “real life” than Facebook. It lets users selectively share with specific groups within given circles. Moreover, it imports all the contacts and information from Gmail automatically. With the tab “Find and invite” we are able to see a list of all the people we have ever emailed in alphabetical order. Good luck in sorting through that!  Google+ imitates the way we organize our friends in real life. It’s child’s play : Just drag people into the chosen circle. Facebook lets users form ad hoc groups, which seems clumsy in comparison.

Innovation for Mobile application users

Google has two mobile applications which work directly with the Google+ account. The main Android app brings the basic parts of Google+ to a mobile device. It has a news stream section  for posting, commenting and sharing materials, the Circles section, and the photos section for photo uploading, tagging and album creation.  The other mobile application is the newest chat software, Huddle.

Upgraded features

The Hangouts feature in Google+ is a simple and fast way to form ad hoc groups for a little chat. It is a natural and fun thing to do in a social networking setting. Facebook simply doesn’t offer these tools, preferring to offer video chats via a partnership with Skype, which is similar to Hangouts, but more complicated and time-consuming.

The Sparks search engine feature is another big differentiator from Facebook. It provides an instant source of information to share with friends. Facebook doesn’t possess a search engine, so users have to leave the site and look for the data they need somewhere else.

The Stream function in Google+ is similar to the News Feed in Facebook.  Its advantage are the controls at the side of the page, which allow us to choose which of our circles of friends can contribute to our stream, allowing us to filter out inane or annoying content.

Privacy Approach

Instead of preset a list of privacy settings for all sharing, as is the case at Facebook, Google+ lets users assign a privacy level of each thing they share. When we want to share an article for example, Google+ gives us the opportunity to choose the friend circle to show that content to. Google clarifies that the information we “contribute to the social graph underneath Google+ will be used to help refine search results and to help target web ads more effectively” (“PC World”).

Mark Zuckerberg has publicly shown a distaste for user data privacy and restriction of personal information. Google Plus is probably using this against him and playing the trust card. The reviewers of PCWorld say: “Facebook is notorious for its poor stewardship of personal data. You are forced to make certain parts of your personal data public” and “it is very hard to permanently delete your Facebook profile”. Google Plus makes it possible to pick up all the data you have added at Google+ and leave. With a Google+ tool called “Data Liberation” we can download data from our Picasa Web Albums, Google profile, Google+ stream, Buzz and contacts.

Google+ stays away from using facial recognition software, which threatens privacy. To tag people you draw a square over a person’s face, after that you type their name in a box below. Here Google handles the privacy aspect well. When we tag someone, we see this note: “Adding this tag will notify the person you have tagged. They will be able to view the photo and the related album.” Facebook doesn’t inform people that they have been tagged (excluding the possibility of objectionable and compromising photos) and they don’t have the chance to remove the tag.

Whilst Facebook asks us for information about: relationship status, gender, religion, political views, favorite films, education and so on, Google+  asks for a brief introduction, like we do when we meet a new person in real life and then asks you to list “bragging rights” like: “have one dog”, “survived University”, etc. It looks like a lexicon, which is funnier and more attractive to users.

It’s obvious that Facebook is being challenged. By offering all the great innovations listed above and an integrated social networking platform, Google+ could render Facebook useless….if it’s not too late already.

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