Google+ is not Facebook

by sjledet on August 4, 2011

Countless articles by the mass media call Google+ an attempt to be a Facebook killer. Please journalists, quit calling Google+ a Facebook killer. It just clouds the issues.  It’s such a shallow bit of journalism to present Google vs. Facebook as a headline.

Google+ is a new approach to social networking. It has some elements from Facebook and some from Twitter. Someone could choose to use Google+ as a Facebook replacement, or perhaps a Twitter replacement, but using Google+ most effectively requires looking at social media with a new pair of glasses. A good journalist studies the subject a bit rather than just spewing forth words or taking the easy path to getting an article out quickly. Google+ is as much a competitor to Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora and other social networks over the long term as it is to Facebook.

By providing a flexible way to group people for both creating and consuming content, Google+ introduces a new foundational architecture. In addition, the culture that is so much an integral part of a social network is so different from Facebook that when I see the typical Google/Facebook comparison in an article, my opinion of the author tends to take a step in the wrong direction and I immediately start questioning whether the author has even spent much time in Google+ first hand.

These comparisons cause harm too. Small business owners may assume that they can safely ignore Google+ like many do Facebook, or that they can view the product as a “personal” environment as opposed to a “business” one. That’s not a safe assumption. It’s more accurate to state that if you have a LinkedIn account, you should have a Google+ account. Google+ is not only not limited to “personal” connections, it actively and aggressively provides functionality so that you easily segregate your “personal” and “business” communications on the platform.

Google+ significantly alters the social dynamic. It combines many of the best features of several different platforms. Like Twitter, you can circle someone in order to follow their public posts. They receive notice, and can either choose to circle you back or not, but if they don’t, it’s not considered a social faux pas that you chose to follow them. On Facebook, you’d damage any potential relationship with someone and you have to be confident that you know them well enough before you friend them. Likewise on LinkedIn. If you own a company and someone did business with your company, do you know them? Should you feel free to invite them to connect? It’s unclear. On Google+ you can choose to circle all your clients without fear of repercussions. It’s a more convenient and more effective way to engage people with low barriers. You aren’t forced into a two way approval process, yet you can choose to engage in one if you so desire. It’s flexible.

This flexibility in the architecture and the culture of the social network is at the heart of why the comparisons to Facebook are spurious and disingenuous. It’s also why people who write that there’s nothing in Google+ that Facebook couldn’t emulate if they so desired are very much wrong about that. Facebook could not remove it’s two way approval process without massive user rejection. There’s no simple way for Facebook to become the open discussion forum that Google+ is engineered to become. These factors just can’t be ignored in any cogent discussion of Google+ and calling Google+ a Facebook killer does a disservice to readers who truly want to understand the product.

  • I’ve spent considerable time on Facebook and have developed 96 lists of 5,000 friends, organized by passionate interests. Many friends are in multiple lists. Facebook would be more like G+ if Facebook allowed you to do something with these lists, such as providing a pull down list (as G+ does) when you go to share a post. Apparently, since only 5% of FB users, according to FB stats, create lists, FB determined it was very low priority to give users the ability to do anything with lists. I resent that Facebook encourages me to create the lists, but then does not really allow me to do anything useful with the lists. If G+ competitively compels FB to implement pull-down lists on the share (as FB now allows sharing by Everyone, Friends of Friends, Friends Only, and Customization by individual), then FB and G+ would be a little more alike.

    I love G+ and i love the differences between FB and G+, particularly G+’s real ability to easily segregate news streams by Circle and Sparks topics, and, of course, i love G+ hangouts. (Facebook pretends to allow you to choose your newsfeed, but i have never found that FB pays attention to my choices.)

    But honestly, i actually get confused which platform i am on because FB and G+ look and feel so much alike to me, so i can forgive those writers who accentuate the similarities rather than the advantages of G+. I suspect that G+ users will outnumber FB users in 3-4 years, given the current state of the platforms and how i imagine them evolving — G+ with amazing integration tools and FB patching together services in a frantic attempt to catch up to G+. But gravity is a strong force, and many people do not like to change, especially if they have invested much time in creating their FB profile and developing their friends there. Nonetheless, if G+ continues to improve its social platform, it certainly will become my base of social media operations (it already has nearly become that in one month).

  • Thanks for the comment Brad. You might want to try Better Facebook. I don’t have a ton of experience with it, and the UI is not as clean as G+, but it does add some pretty cool features for power users. I like that it instantly tells me who has stopped following me for instance, so I can kind of tell who I’ve pissed off recently. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Nice article.  Love to have information from a positive perspective!

  • A good comparative analysis, thank you:)

  • Can’t agree more! never compare pears with apples (o;

  • Can’t agree more! You can’t compare pears with apples my mum used to say (o;

  • Thanks for the informative post, Sterling. I am always interested when something new enters the social media space – I think it’s best if all the “tools” play together nicely!

  • I’m not yet sold on the G+.  I have had fun testing it out and I’m looking forward to the changes they are going to make to compete with FB.  It’s just hard for me to believe that people like my mom will ever move from FB to G+, but we’ll see. 


  • Thanks for time to demystify Google+ – so much to learn with so little time 😀

  • The two platforms are very interesting and diverse and I like it that way.

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