The Ever-Changing World of Social Media

    September 29, 2011
    Chris Crum

Google+ is growing a lot now that it’s open to the public. It’s worth noting, but there is a much bigger picture in the social media competition conversation than Facebook users vs. Google+ users.

Do you use any Google product? If so, you should be counted as a Google+ user. Tell us which Google products you use in the comments.

We’ve often seen stories in the media about how people sign up for Google+, but rarely post. The important nugget of information that often goes unnoticed, however, is that this is generally in reference to public posts, and Google+ VP Product Bradley Horowitz talked about this in an interview with Wired.

“We’ve found there is actually twice as much private sharing as there is sharing that’s visible to everyone on the Internet,” he said. “That’s why sometimes it looks like people sign up and then don’t come back. In fact, they’re sharing with small groups of people that they trust and love. It’s just not publicly visible. So there’s this sort of dark matter that the public can’t see.”

Let’s not forget that one of the main things people found appealing about Google+ from the onset was the Circles sharing concept – the concept of having more control over who sees what. You’re not supposed to see every post from everybody. This isn’t Twitter (despite the ability to use it that way).

In fact, this concept was so well received that Facebook knew it had to have similar options, which it recently launched.

Horowitz also noted that Google has plans to address the issue of people who are not engaging or visiting Google+ enough, though he didn’t go into specifics. Perhaps the main point to take away from that interview is that Google+ is simply Google – a point I have brought up numerous times, I might add (even before Google+ was launched).

Essentially, the point is that Google as a whole – it’s portfolio of products – is the network. Your Google account, regardless of whether you use Google+ itself, makes you a user, because it’s all connected, and will be connected in many more ways as time progresses. Google+ – the streams, circles, hangouts, etc. are simply features of the greater Google social network.

In Horowitz’s own words, “Google+ is Google itself. We’re extending it across all that we do—search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube—so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are.”

There you have it. WHO YOU ARE. I would say it’s about who you are on the web, but those lines are getting blurrier by the day. Take Google Wallet, for example. If this becomes as widely adopted as Google hopes, you’ll be using it to purchase physical goods at physical stores on a regular basis. This isn’t just bout online identity. It’s about identity.

I’m not saying we’re going to be giving up our driver’s licences or social security numbers anytime soon, (although Andy Rooney might think that’s a good idea). But we are going to be using our online identities for more than just web-related tasks and fun.

Google+ is one of many gateways Google has for users to enter the Google universe and have that Google account available as their identity. Google has a tremendous advantage over Facebook in those terms. So many products. So many gateways. With Facebook, you’re either a Facebook user or you’re not. With Google, you may not be a Google+ users, but you may be a Gmail user or a Google Docs user or a YouTube user, etc. It’s all one in the same.

That’s not to say that Facebook is going to lose any ground here. Facebook already has 800 million users. That’s just ridiculous. Facebook has taken a very different path by essentially focusing on one product – the social network (and the platform around it), but they’ve done it better than anybody. They’ve done it so well that just about every brand needs to be involved in one way or another, whether it’s simply having a page or building apps, connecting content, logins, etc.

Facebook did things right when they needed to and blew every competitor in the social network space out of the water, and despite numerous feature additions, redesigns and other changes, there is no indication that it will be losing its spot in the social network chain of command.

Despite taking a very different path from Google, the destination is the same – your identity. If you have a Facebook account, you can use it to do a lot of things on the web, and I’d be surprised if you won’t be able to do more and more in the physical world with it in the future.

There are plenty of other services out there that give you an online identity, but it seems that Google and Facebook are the frontrunners in this department. Twitter will likely get a big boost from iOS and the iPhone 5, due to its heavy integration with the operating system. Apple’s launch event is October 4, we’ll probably learn more about this at that point, though Facebook is supposed to have some new iOS apps in store as well.

The good news is that so far users don’t have to choose which identity they want to be their own. You can have a Google ID, a Facebook ID and a Twitter ID, and use them as you see fit. You can even have a Yahoo ID, a Microsoft ID, a LinkedIn ID, a MySpace ID, and whatever else you want (and that includes OpenID and things of that nature as well). What these companies stand to gain from being your primary ID is having you use more of their services, or spend more time with their products, which is when your ID becomes easier to monetize. Whether it be virtual currency or serving your advertisements, your ID is worth money. That may be a tough pill to swallow for some, but it’s how the world works.

You can live off the grid if you like, but it may get harder and harder to do so as more companies go paperless, and more online services find more ways to penetrate the physical world. Life may get harder to navigate without an online ID of some kind.

Social media has evolved very quickly, and it continues to do so. Who would have thought it would go in this direction when you were first setting up your Myspace page?

One very interesting element to all of this is that email still rules the Internet. Google ID? You get an email address. Even Facebook has email addresses now. To this day, you still need to have an email address to even sign up for Facebook. It’s probably been a while since you paid any attention to Facebook’s sign up box. Here’s what it looks like:

Facebook Sign up  

You even need another email address to sign up for a Gmail account.

Who is in better position to win the identity war? Google or Facebook? Somebody different? Let us know what you think in the comments.