Facebook vs Google+

5/15/2012 9:39:12 AM

The due

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?

Description: Facebook vs Google+ (part 1)

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 attacks.


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.

Data security

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 ( 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.

Description: Privacy for individual posts is granular and allows for custom exceptions.

Privacy for individual posts is granular and allows for custom exceptions.

Description: It's also easy to see a history of the apps you have used and disable them.

It's also easy to see a history of the apps you have used and disable them.

Description: Your Google account dashboard reveals what the company knows about you.

Your Google account dashboard reveals what the company knows about you.

Description: Google+ was designed with games in mind. Games came to Facebook mid-life.

Google+ was designed with games in mind. Games came to Facebook mid-life.

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