Can Google+ Rival Facebook?

As you may know (especially if you’re a Google+ user), Google+ got its first major redesign this week. There’s a pretty healthy mix of likes and dislikes among users, but one thing remains...
Can Google+ Rival Facebook?
Written by Chris Crum
  • As you may know (especially if you’re a Google+ user), Google+ got its first major redesign this week. There’s a pretty healthy mix of likes and dislikes among users, but one thing remains clear: the Google/Facebook competition isn’t dying down. Add to that the fact that Facebook just acquired Instagram for $1 billion while it aims to increase its mobile focus.

    Interestingly, Google VP of Engineering, Vic Gundotra, revealed that Google+ has over 170 million users. This number refers to the amount of people who have activated a Google+ account. The stat came just a week after CEO Larry Page said Google+ had 100 million active users, which reflected the stat dropped by Gundotra last month at SXSW. That, Gundotra explained, was referring to users who used Google+ within 30 days of using another Google service. Either way, considering that it’s not even a year old, it’s not bad, if you ask me.

    Page discussed Google+ during the company’s earnings call on Thursday. He said we should think about Google+ in terms of two parts: the “social spine” and the “social destination.” Google+, he said, is “truly at the heart of our efforts.” That’s where the “social spine” part comes in. This, as best as I can tell, is just another way of saying “social layer,” which Google has frequently referred to Google+ as. That’s where the integration with other Google products comes in. It’s essentially a layer over the bigger Google product (all of Google, for all intents and purposes), which connects you with other people and aids in the personalization of your experience across all of the “bigger Google’s” features (other Google products like Gmail, YouTube, Docs, Reader, etc.).

    You’re using just one Google, Page said, “not a series of disconnected products.”

    It was nice finally hearing Page say that, as it’s exactly the way I’ve been trying to write about Google+ for as long as it’s existed (really even before – remember when we were still calling it “Google Me”?).

    Mashable’s Todd Wasserman asks if Google+ is the third largest social network with 170 million users (with Facebook at somewhere around 850 million, Twitter at 500 million and LinkedIn at 150 million). He rattles off a bunch of stats from various measurement firms:

    ComScore reports that Google+ had 23.1 million active users in March, compared to 158.9 million for Facebook, 40.3 million for Twitter and 37.4 million for LinkedIn. In the U.S., at least, Google+ is closer to Tumblr (21.8 million) and Pinterest (18.7 million) than those others. ComScore doesn’t provide global figures, but data compiled by Website-Monitoring in early February found that about 31% of Google+ users are based in the U.S.

    Meanwhile, monthly visit data compiled by ExperianHitwise estimates that Google+ received 61 million U.S. visits in March, a nice jump over February, but still well behind Facebook (7 billion), Twitter (182 million), Pinterest (104 milllion), LinkedIn (86 million) and Tagged (72 million.)

    As a side note, one incredibly interesting aspect of all of this, at least to me, is that while Google gets the advantage of being Google and having all of its various products, Twitter doesn’t have that, and still has 500 million (this is, according to Twopcharts in February). Seems like a pretty legit contender to me, should Facebook lose steam in MySpace-like fashion at some point.

    If you can count the “social spine” part of Google+, it has the potential to be even bigger than Facebook. Google is already using it in search results. Here’s comScore’s latest search market numbers:

    comScore March 2012 Search Rankings

    Notice that Facebook isn’t a factor there. You think they might want to make their own search engine?

    Think about Gmail. Hard numbers on users are hard to come by, but I promise you, it has a lot of users. Consider that Google contacts info is now synced into Google+ too. Even if you don’t use “Google+,” I bet there’s a good chance you have some Google contacts, if you use Gmail. Interestingly enough, Facebook is pushing email more now.

    And then there’s YouTube.

    “Today, YouTube has over 800 million monthly users uploading over an hour of video per second,” Page said in his letter last week. That’s getting pretty close to Facebook in numbers right there. No, they’re not all actively using the “social destination” part of Google+, but does it really matter? It’s the “social spine” part, which goes across all of Google that Google must be mostly concerned with. And as long as Google continues to find more useful integrations, Google+ should grow.

    Google is pushing YouTube growth harder than it ever has. It’s making moves to get major content and high quality, original content in front of users. The recent homepage redesign is huge for this too. Now, they’ve expanded the Partner Program.

    Page didn’t reveal any new numbers about the “social destination” part, disappointing listeners of the earnings call, but the message he is trying to send is clear. It’s not about that. The social destination, what most people think of as Google+, is another way of keeping users engaged with Google products, and can help push more data to Google, but whether people are going to the Google+ stream all the time does not make or break Google+, because it’s the “social spine” of Google itself that is far more significant.

    Google+ is not going to be another Google Buzz or Google Wave, simply because it is simply ingrained into the larger Google. So, while it looks like Google+ (the social destination) may not be able to rival Facebook, Google (with a “social spine”) might be a different story. Google, even without the social spine, is already up there.

    Don’t think for a second that any of this is lost on Facebook. Facebook has seen this coming for far longer than Google+ has been out. It’s why Facebook decided it needs email, and why it’s not too far fetched to speculate that Facebook will make a significant move into search.

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