Google+ is not a Social Network, but a Social Layer
I just made a discovery that once and for all eliminates the need for comparison between Facebook with its 1 billion users and Google+ with its 500,000.
Google+ is not a social network, but a social layer.
I'll get to the difference in just a moment, but I suspect it's a misunderstanding that many of you share. And I lay that misperception fully at Google's feet. The company hasn't done a stellar job of differentiating itself from Facebook or putting some distance between the two.
Facebook defines itself as a "social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them."
However, Google defines Google+ as a "social blanket" that envelopes the entire social experience. In essence, Google has added a social aspect to all of its popular products: Search, Docs, YouTube, Ads, Google Local, Maps and even Gmail. Google+ is just the knot that ties them all together.
Yet another way to compare the two: Facebook is a destination; Google+ is a freeway system connecting each of its component parts.
Or, to quote Google SVP of Engineering Vic Gundotra, "Google+ is the next version of Google."
I can understand if all this sounds like a matter of semantics, but there is a key difference. People use Facebook primarily for the purpose of socializing. Conversely, people use Google's products for many reasons. The introduction of Google+ means they can now add a social element to those activities.
That's why, when addressing the issue of numbers of users, Google breaks it down into three categories: people who have upgraded to Google+ (500 million), people who are active across Google using things like the +1 button and connecting with friends in Search (235 million), and what it refers to as "in-stream" users, those who actively use Google+ itself (100 million).
Of course, to those 100 million Google+ IS a social network. It has network features like the newly minted Communities, Hangouts, and threaded comments. People can join Circles and share content on each other's profiles. That sounds very social networky to me.
But it's almost as if the social network aspect of G+ is merely another product like Search or YouTube.
Regardless, I choose to no longer think of Google+ in the same way as I do Facebook, for two reasons. First, I need to differentiate the two for my own peace of mind. Second, I need a good reason to use Google+ and have been reluctant to do so thinking of it as little more than a Facebook clone. It's not. It's ecosystem is much more encompassing.
So, with every major Google product has now "plused" in some way. why doesn't the company just drop the "+" and call it Google?
I do wish this fact would be noticed more by brands, and not simply stick to Facebook "because everyone's there".
Carlos Rivera says:
Great discovery, Paul. I'm glad you could share this revelation with all of us, as it does make sense.
Paul Chaney says:
I predict that Google+ will surface as a goto social network in 2013. In order to do that, however, the API is going to have to become more open. For example, the social media management tool I use does not yet allow for content syndication to Google+. Making the workflow more seamless will certainly help continue its adoption.
Mike Darnell says:
A friend of mine just told me in a conversation that after 2 years of trying to make it work on g+ he just kind of stopped posting there. This prompted zero change to his life. I think many people just see G+ as very redundant. It does have some SEO advantages but sadly those are not enough to make a breakthrough it has sorely needed.
Yes they have added 'social aspects' to all of their bits and pieces but it is still fragmented. Hardly, a meaningful and coherent one stop shop.
Facebook is no better and will not monetise its business model for two reasons - its simplistic design and the fact that monetisation was not built in from day one. Retrospective attempts to generate revenue will drive people away, be viewed as 'bait and switch', or plain stupid in terms of introducing spam. I don't care how much someone pays to send me a message. I would not want it.
Randy Carlisle says:
Paul - I've read your last 3 articles on Google+, and I appreciate your insights as to the differences and similarities between Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
One point I might add for consideration, is the investment and commitment the founders have placed in Google+. I believe they have bet-the-farm on the success of the G+ paradigm/social layer.
Note: there are now 2 search engines: Google Search and Google+ Search. In other words, you get a different set of search results depending on whether you are logged-in to your G+ profile or not. For online marketers and power users of all stripes, this is crucial information.
The final point I wanted to mention is Google Authorship. As I understand it, it is a strategy to improve reliability and quality of content, by having an author claim their content.
With Google Authorship, you can link your content to your G+ profile by using the rel="author" tag. And by using the rel="publisher" tag, you can connect your G+ profile to your G+ business page. Plugins are available.
It is observed and proven that people tend to click more frequently on items in a search result, when the author's thumbnail photo appears next to a search result. For those competing for a first page listing in the Google search results, the potential for using G+ Authorship is compelling.