Google+ challenges Facebook’s social-networking dominance

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      Ryan Cousineau is a self-professed early adopter of social media. In an interview with the Georgia Straight, the 37-year-old supervisor of classroom technology for Douglas College explained which services he uses.

      “Facebook and Twitter are probably the big two for me,” he said in a downtown Vancouver coffee shop.

      Cousineau is also now one of the 50 million registered users on Google+.

      Launched on June 28, Google+ includes many of the features found on other social-networking services, allowing users to post status updates, links to web content, and photos, and to view a feed of content created by other users they follow. It also supports group video chat, instant messaging, and games, and has its own iOS and Android apps.

      During its field trial, Google+ required people to obtain an invitation from either a Google+ user or Google itself to join. That changed on September 20, when the social-networking service was made available to everyone 18 years of age or older.

      The challenge for Google+ and any new social-networking service attempting to break into a market dominated by Facebook and Twitter is to figure out how to build up a user base.

      “I think if Google+ is going to have a problem it’s that they haven’t penetrated the non-nerd territory yet,” Cousineau said. “Facebook’s success was not that they were the darling of nerds; it was about being the darling of normal people.”

      Even former Internet darlings like Friendster, which relaunched itself in June as a social-gaming site, have struggled. Indeed, Google’s previous attempts at building a viable social network—Buzz, Wave, and Orkut—have made little headway against Facebook.

      “Friendster didn’t get to critical mass the way that Facebook did. Facebook stopped being about other people who were nerdy and connected and had their own blogs and were chasing after the newest toys, and started to become about people who were perfectly normal human beings but still had a Facebook account,” Cousineau pointed out, before noting that even his mother is on Facebook.

      Oana Capota, the curator of the New Westminster Museum and Archives, agrees that it’s important that a social network have other people to use it with. “There aren’t too many people on it at this point, so I’ve stopped checking it as often for updates,” Capota said of Google+. “I now check about once a week.”

      Speaking to the Straight by phone, the 37-year-old mentioned that privacy is a big determining factor in how she chooses her social networks. Early in her Google+ usage, she became worried about the fact that people she did not know were following her.

      Google+ users can follow the postings of anyone else on the service. It’s up to users to decide whether to share each post with the public or just with a select group of people who they’ve organized into what Google+ calls Circles.

      It’s this ability to follow anyone on Google+ that most appeals to Cousineau. “The idea being that you can subscribe to someone’s posts, so it doesn’t have to be a two-way relationship,” Cousineau said. “You don’t get that friend pressure where you have to be friends with someone on Facebook to be having a conversation, whereas on Google+ there’s an opportunity for a broadcast relationship.”

      Privacy and control over users’ online identities could be where Google+ has the advantage. Peter Chow-White is an assistant professor in Simon Fraser University’s school of communication who has studied social media. He pointed out that one of the early issues with Facebook was that many users did not know that the terms of use gave the company total control over anything posted on the site. Facebook could have even resold users’ content if it wished.

      “Even if you took stuff down off your Facebook page, it would still be sitting on their servers,” Chow-White told the Straight by phone.

      It’s an approach that, at least so far, Google has not taken with Google+. Its terms of service are far less controlling than Facebook’s. Users are able to export their Google+ content easily, whether to move it to another service or for backup purposes.

      The stakes are high for Google, with their chief revenue stream being online advertising. According to Chow-White, Facebook is able to give advertisers much more information about its users than Google can do with its search engine.

      “Social media, especially Facebook, is Web 2.0, where Facebook can find out what people like, but they can also find out what their interests are, who their friends are, where they’re going—all of these things,” Chow-White said. “There’s much more finite detail about the users than Google can ever know. Google is trying to get those things. Google wants that information, and the name of the game is to have that information to sell for marketing purposes.”

      What will determine the success of Google+, though, is whether or not it’s adopted by users who stick with the service. Capota noted one challenge that Google+ will have to overcome is social-network overdosing.

      “When I put up an invite [to Google+] on Facebook some people joined, but a lot of people said, ‘Well, what’s the point? I’m already on Facebook. Why do I need two at once?’ ” Capota said. “I kind of agree. It is a lot to follow.”



      Alistair Calder

      Oct 11, 2011 at 3:56pm

      Perhaps Ryan should spend some time keeping up with the social media he adopts so early.

      Facebook has allowed subscribing to another person's feed for about a month now, which is exactly the same as Google+.

      It's easy to find: just locate someone you want to follow and click the "Subscribe" button right next to where it says "Add as friend". Both options are available.

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      The Fence

      Oct 11, 2011 at 7:26pm

      I'm finding that a lot of my friends adopted Google+ early but then ceased to actually use it. Not so social media.

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      Matt Musselman

      Oct 11, 2011 at 10:53pm

      Alistair, I believe the interviews were conducted about a month ago, so the new Facebook feature would have either not yet been released or was only in its infancy at that time....

      Ryan Cousineau

      Oct 16, 2011 at 1:35pm

      I looked at my calendar, and as my friend Matt guessed, I believe Jeffery interviewed me Sept. 9.

      The new subscription feature in Facebook seems directly aimed at Google+. My network access is a bit intermittent right now (I'm in Greece on vacation), but I still see G+ roughly as I said. I wouldn't bet against Google in the long run, but Facebook (plus a heaping helping of Twitter, and numerous other bits and pieces) is still my go-to social network.

      It's always a bit gruesome to self-describe as an "early adopter," but, for example, I signed up for Twitter (somewhat skeptically) in May 2008. Look at a growth chart of tweet volume to see where that was; as best as I can figure, that was when Twitter was running at well under 1/200th of its current tweet volume. It was pretty early relative to its mainstream success.