Google+ is the social network that wants to
make everything better. Our detailed analysis shows whether or not Facebook
should start trembling with fear.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will be
happy if you replicate your entire life with the new Timeline feature, whether
or not you really want to. The Timeline replaces existing profile pages and
provides Facebook users with totally new options to record their experiences in
their digital diaries. The introduction of Timelines could be an answer to the
latest strong competitor: Google+. Since September, social networks have been
on overdrive to retain users' interest, and Facebook is in danger of slipping
out of its comfortable dominant position. Time for a test, in which we ask the
question: which is the network of the future?
Simply put, the network in which one finds
the majority of his or her friends, i.e. his social sphere. Facebook with
around 800 million users has a clear lead here. Search giant Google is playing
the role of David in this case, even though it already has registered
approximately 40 million people. Our aims for the test, however, lead us to
examine what both networks offer their users, in terms of options for
communication, information search, usability, and data security.
Facebook is rolling out a strategy change
with lots of new features since its activity has started leveling off in some
countries, such as the USA. The new strategy is to make more content visible on
each page and strengthen the connections between users. Along with the
Timeline, Facebook uses a system called Open Graph 2.0, which integrates the
data from apps into the profile. And Google+ has a better search function to
offer, and the strong integration of other Google services.
User communication remains the most obvious
common offering of both services. Facebook is aligning the focus on personal
content and experiences, while Google emphasizes information and how it flows
in each user's network. This mirrors the different strengths of the contenders.
Can Google+ seriously challenge Facebook this way? In contrast to Google+,
Facebook has been designed as a platform that opens up like a self-contained
world of communication, entertainment and discovery (including users, App
developers, and advertisers). Facebook and its many outside developers
continually improve this product and provide users with a highly personalized
experience. Google+ has till now only used user profiles to link friends and
contacts, of course has its email, video and chat services already online,
apart from a trump card in the form of its own mobile operating system Android.
If Google+ becomes a more commonly used platform (while addressing data
security concerns), it can become a danger for Facebook, which is historically
weak where mobile access is concerned.
It all depends on three factors:
communication, usability and data security. The main purpose of a social
network is communication, so what matters is how well one can chat and interact
with others privately and publicly, on-the-go and on the PC. The ability and
ease of representing ourselves and our histories will also begin to matter. How
easily can one find information and small details within profiles on either
service, and how easily can we control who else sees them? How transparent is
the sharing of our content, and how can we control it exactly? The platform
itself becomes useless if we, the users, are vulnerable to phishing and other
The central element in both networks is the
stream of information that represents news about one’s friends. Facebook seems
to function perfectly, since our expectations are based on this model.
The "Top news" view sorts the
stream as per the an algorithm, which favors multimedia updates like photos and
videos, along with posts that have attracted many comments. You might not like
the filtering, but it is helpful when checking large volumes of updates, to
display what Facebook believes to be interesting more prominently. A real-time
chronological view is implemented in the form of a live ticker that displays
all news items from friends in the right-side margin. Google+ on the other hand
has fewer options, and displays everything cleanly chronologically, which
doesn't offer any scope for customization. Only if you sort friends into many
circles and then filter within the circle, can you manage the flow of news.
Subscribing, following or stalking?
An additional parallel with Twitter is the
follower principle in Google+. You can follow the publicly posted contents from
other users just by adding him or her to one of your circles. This does not
require his consent. A number of users find this objectionable. Google however
promotes openness and quick dispersion of information in this manner. Facebook
started providing a similar function after Google+ launched, but you as user
must specifically allow this before others can follow your public postings.
With Facebook, friends inhabit a more private space. Users can also form closed
groups or make event plans, which is missing in Google completely. On the other
hand, Google+ introduced the idea of holding "Hangouts", which are
video conferences with up to ten (soon 20) persons. Flangouts can be utilized
even on Android (version 4.0) smartphones. Facebook on the contrary provides
only 1-on-1 video chats in addition to the basic text chatting. Google, with
its many services has enormous potential to bring users together, but must be
careful of forcing services onto its users. The beginning has been (naturally)
marked by YouTube, using which you can already see which videos have been
posted by your Google+ friends. This currently requires users to link their
accounts. Soon, Google Reader will be overtaken, requiring users to share and
distribute content they read directly to other Google+ users. As and when
Google brings the users of its other services to Google+, the network will grow
towards a critical mass that will make even more users flock to it.
The huge scope of functions on Facebook has
one disadvantage: the site is often confusing and features are nested within
each other. Google+ users have an easier time, as we have measured in practical
tests. A typical example of this is the data security settings, which are
divided into numerous sub-categories in Facebook and take a long while to fully
understand. In fact it seems unnecessarily complicated to actually find the
settings one needs. When settings are too complicated to change, the user does
not change them, leading to potential disasters in the future. In Google+, you
can edit all settings for visibility of personal information directly, as it
should be. "Google has learned from the Buzz disaster and Google+ has been
developed from the beginning with awareness of data security. The difference
also surely lies in age: Facebook has been around for about eight years, and
Google+ is still less than a year old. It is a challenge for Google to maintain
pleasantly simple operations while adding as many features as its competitor
has over the years. Using the very successful Timeline, Facebook provides users
with many more options to represent themselves. They replaced the old profile
page and reproduced the user profile as a record of all his or her private and
professional life experiences, friends, posted material, places visited, and
much more. All updates made since joining Facebook are automatically
represented, but now additional updates can be added retrospectively—from birth
to even death—though of course this is optional. Adding to the timeline
requires only an intuitive click in the desired position. All that Google+
offers as personalization in the profile are a handful of photos and snippets
of personal information, plus the list of subscriptions.
Google's sharpest weapon: the search function
Google+ is considerably more sophisticated
while finding and filtering search results—of course that has been already
established for Google. The recently introduced hashtag function, familiar to
all Twitter users, is very useful. One can index items using "#"
codes to define tags or themes. These hashes function like links and deliver
matches when one clicks on one posting. Facebook of course also scans publicly
visible data such as names of people, sites, applications or publicly posted
subscriptions. To find these, one needs more clicks in Google+. The suggested
matches in the search bars explicitly select persons and profiles of companies
(i.e. advertisers) that might be of interests.
Privacy advocates state that when you use
free services, you are not the customer, but the product that is sold.
Immediately after Facebook announces most of its plans, many users seem to feel
this way, and fierce discussions about data security and privacy emerge. Does
Facebook know too much about us when we spread our life in the Timeline?
Advertisers would jump for joy over such information, as they can more
strategically place their ads. And as a user, do you want Apps to automatically
post what we are listening to or what we otherwise do?
This is exactly what Facebook wants us to
do, using the extended Open Graph protocol which is still only in its infancy.
In the future, many App providers will jump
at the chance to integrate such functions. Due to this, one loses a bit of
perspective over every little things that happens on one's own Facebook
profile. Naturally it also provides benefits, like instantly sharing details of
a favourite song. This brings social elements to all forms of digital media
consumption. The debate about loss of control of course becomes more valid, as
does the question of what exactly Facebook does with all this data. Only the
Facebook team can answer truthfully, but they have not offered any answers to
the public yet.
Collect users first, the money will follow
Google+ is as of now ad-free. But after a
specific number of users Google could easily try to make money from this data.
The concern arises because of Google's plan
to soon combine information from other Google services such as YouTube and
Gmail, which gives them (and potentially their clients) an extensively detailed
picture of users' identities. Hence the ability to see an overview of all
information Google knows about us in our Account Dashboard is surely a relief
(google.com/ dashboard). You can edit or delete individual bits of data, but it
might be a huge surprise that so much is even recorded in the first place.
Facebook unfortunately does not offer such an option; but one can request a CD
with the complete data set collected about oneself.
Facebook is a bit more in favor of log-in
security. As a user one can determine exactly which devices can log into the
profile and what should happen if another device attempts to do so. Facebook
has also improved security when it comes to the spread of dangerous links, as
malware has been increasingly distributed in this way.
In the end, after comparing all our
impressions and experiences, Facebook is currently the winner. That doesn't
mean that Google won't try very hard to lure users. Users will happily abandon
Facebook when something new comes along, but at the moment, Google+ is just a
less fleshed-out implementation of the same thing.
Privacy for individual posts is granular
and allows for custom exceptions.
It's also easy to see a history of the
apps you have used and disable them.
Your Google account dashboard reveals
what the company knows about you.
Google+ was designed with games in mind.
Games came to Facebook mid-life.