Facebook Seems Worried About Google+. Should it Be?

    July 19, 2011
    Chris Crum

In a recent article, we looked at some obstacles Google+ would have to overcome. We also looked at how Google+ might maim (as opposed to kill) Twitter. I don’t think Twitter’s going to die anytime soon, but Google+ is already taking away a lot of people’s Twitter time. Something’s got to give somewhere, and more people simply just have more invested in Facebook – their network of real friends, their photos, games, etc. Robert Scoble says Google+ is already making Twitter more boring. Could it do the same to Facebook?

Can Google+ win over Facebook users? Tell us what you think.

Migrating from Facebook to Google+

Google Developer advocate Don Dodge recently ran down a step-by-step process for getting your Facebook Friends on Google+. Of course you could simply send them invites. We recently looked at how to transfer your photos from Facebook to Google+. Speaking of photos, the Google+ mobile app makes it very easy to use Google as your photo album of choice, with the instant upload feature.

Games are a huge part of Facebook’s appeal for many users. Both Facebook and Google know the significance of gaming to social network success. In a new addendum to Zynga’s (makers of Farmville, Cityville, Mafia Wars, etc.) S-1 filing, it was revealed that games built with any Facebook integration or data must be exclusive to Facebook for the duration of the two companies’ five-year agreement. At SXSW in March, Manny Anekal, Zynga’s Director of Brand Advertising, said that 1 in 5 Americans play Zynga games. I can’t confirm this, but…wow.

Meanwhile, Google has been placing a fair amount of emphasis on gaming itself. Last summer, it acquired social gaming companies Slide and SocialDeck. Chrome users may have noticed some heavy promotion of Angry Birds as well. In fact, there are plenty of other non-Google games making their way into Google’s Chrome web store, not to mention the Android market. Google controls the Chrome and Android platforms obviously, so who’s to say where this could lead in Google+-related gaming. Remember Google+ is largely about the ID element – who you’re signed into these games as.

Slide - Acquired by Google

Even If You Don’t Have a G+ Account, You’re Still a User

One of the most important things Google+ has going for it is that it is simply part of Google, and there’s a good chance you already have a Google account. Google+ simply adds features on top of it. In other words, you’re already a member in some ways. What happens when this “field testing” phase of Google+ is over? Will it simply just be there on all of the Google properties you use?

Look at this new user interface Google is testing for its search results pages. This at least partially illustrates how Google may keep Google+ in front of you all the time. Even as you scroll down through search results, the navigation bar at the top (as well as the left panel) stay put Now, it’s not visible in the video, but when you’re signed up for Google+, it’s part of that top black bar. There’s a tab for “username” which goes to your Google+ stream, and there’s a share box. Now picture the same thing on Gmail, Google Docs, Google Reader, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa web albums, etc. it keeps the Google+ experience with you if you’re a Google user, and last time I checked, Google had more than a few users. They also have more potentially important emerging products such as Google Offers and Google Wallet, which will also be integrated with Google+.

Google is even making News more social. Last week they launched News badges, turning news consumption into something of a game. Then there’s the “sparks” feature of Google+ – a content discovery feature that could rival StumbleUpon, aimed at “sparking” conversations on Google+.

We’re in the very early stages here too. The mobile app (for Android) has already been key in my own use, and I’m sure that goes for other Android users. Now it just became available for the iPhone. It would also be surprising if Google didn’t put out some browser extensions for Google+ making that share box and steam available as you browse the rest of the web. See something cool on Facebook? Past the link in the share box at the top of the page to share with the appropriate circle. If Google doesn’t do this itself, someone will.

Think of all of the ways Facebook and Twitter are integrated with other apps and sites. When the API is unleashed, that means the potential for Google+ usefulness with skyrocket.

There are already a number of things Google+ has that Facebook doesn’t. The Huffington Post ran a nice little slideshow of six things this week:

1. Hangouts – Group video chat
2. Sparks – Get the news (Not the News Feed)
3. Keep Your Social Circles Secret
4. See what Strangers are saying (the “incoming” feature)
5. Hang out with people you don’t know (Hangouts not limited to mutual friends)
6. Embedded into Gmail (The inbox)

Last Thursday, when Google held its earnings call, CEO Larry Page officially announced that Google+ already had over 10 million users. I’m guessing that number has grown significantly since then. Now, that’s a far cry from Facebook’s estimated 700 million (the validity of which is often called into question), but given that it’s only a few weeks old, and still available on an invitation-only basis, I’d say that’s a pretty good start.

Signs of Worry

Facebook is already showing signs of worry. Over the weekend, we reported on a guy who wanted to get some friends on Google+, so he tried to run an ad on Facebook for his Google+ profile. Facebook blocked it, and even went so far as to suspend the rest of his campaigns.

Numerous Facebook employees (including CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself) have Google+ profiles. They are no doubt studying the workings and culture from within to gain as much perspective as possible into what Google is up to. Luckily they already have a lot of former Google employees working for them, including the guy credited with coming up with the Circles concept at the heart of Google+. In fact, he recently talked about how Google is allegedly blocking the publishing of a book about it.

Don’t be surprised to see features similar to those of Google+ start finding their way into Facebook. You may recall as Twitter emerged on the scene that Facebook gradually started becoming much more Twitter-like. Not that Google hasn’t borrowed from Facebook already. Clearly some influence has crept in. There’s no denying that, but that could serve to help Google in the long run. Familiarity helps if you’re trying to get new users. That’s likely a large part of why Google Wave didn’t work.

Google+ For Businesses

Google is set to start letting businesses have brand pages this week. That’s only some businesses, mind you, but that will be expanded in time. Meanwhile, Facebook has suddenly start letting Page admins invite their friends to “like” their Pages via notifications (at least in the US).

Getting businesses on board is going to play a major role in the success of Google+ as well, and it’s clear that Google is thinking this way too. Recent Google+ posts from Googlers include:

“Does anyone have any ideas about how hangouts might be useful in a business setting?”

“Enterprise folks, when you hear “engagement”, it’s codeword for involvement, commitment, and productivity – exactly what you need from your employees. G+ will be awesome for your business – more info soon on this.”

“Some good points raised on the potential fit of Google+ for businesses.”

Google “Ads Guy” Christian Oestlien asked users, “What features would businesses and advertisers most like to see on Google+?” Responses included:

  • Built-in analytics for company pages/profiles to see clicks and conversions
  • Text-based filtering to eliminate certain kinds of posts (not unlike email filters)
  • “Pages” should have same ranking as personal posts in the stream
  • Mark as favorite or “star” feature
  • Customized landing pages
  • Expanding hangouts for larger groups
  • Blogging comments tools
  • “View all active hangouts” button so you can see who in your circles are “hanging out”
  • Location-based geo-targeted Circles
  • “Wish list” Circles for potential deals on products/services
  • The ability to share a circle (would be like Twitter lists)
  • Support for events
  • Google+ integration with third-party sites
  • Google Wave integration (Yes, Google killed it, but did say its technology could be used in other products)
  • With Google Apps, the ability to set who can post as the company or manage the company page
  • The ability to choose what type of advertising you see when it gets ads (which it no doubt will…Google does allow users to set ad preferences with Interest-based advertising)
  • A polling/question app (wouldn’t be surprised to see Google Moderator make an appearance)
  • The ability for businesses to let fans add themselves to different circles that the business creates – based on different interests or categories (As one person pointed out, this would be helpful for news outlets that cover different areas)
  • The ability to make some user Circles public that people can join on their own
  • Live streaming for events
  • The ability to search shared items and comments
  • Discussions feature for business pages
  • For business pages – tabs for different things like history, latest products, etc.
  • User suggestions based on those talking about keywords that relate to company account
  • Recordings for Hangouts with automatic transcription
  • Signing of brand accounts by contributing employees
  • Multiple sign-in for brand pages
  • Google Maps integration
  • More stream-editing controls
  • Google Docs integration with Hangouts

It’s hard to say how many of these will actually make their way into Google+, but clearly there is a great deal of potential, as well as demand. More importantly, Google is listening, and is active in discussing improvements with users. “These comments are fantastic. Keep going!” Oestlien said.

In terms of business, Google has a major leg up on Facebook. It already has so many products that businesses rely on: search, advertising, analytics, Google Apps, Place Pages. The list will also include the Chrome OS operating system if the company has its way.

We’ve only seen the very beginning of what Google is going to offer with Google+. Should Facebook be worried? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.