Google+: Facebook’s Competitor, Plain and Simple

Google isn’t perfect––Buzz and Wave flopped. Although both Google and Facebook are supported by advertising, the companies’ origins may prove to be the deciding factor in the race for social media supremacy.

Stats Compared

Facebook Google+


750,000,000 10,000,000*


February 2004 June 28, 2011

Ad Revenue

$1.86B (2010) $28.2B (2010)**

*Estimates reported by the media––no official numbers have been released by Google.
**-Total ad revenue for Google, including all Google products.

How It All Began
As the legend goes, Facebook started as a dorm room project at Harvard with Mark Zuckerberg and team. It was a techie way to view classmates in a dynamic personal directory format with functions for communicating. The platform quickly expanded beyond Harvard to other Ivy League schools, then to other universities, and ultimately to anyone with a valid email address over the age of 13. Google was the research project of two Stanford PhD students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and was based on an algorithm that used relationships between sites to determine page rank and search results. The algorithmic love child of two soon-to-be entrepreneurs was received as a fresh way to find content online. No one saw the full potential of either company. Fast forward to today: Both are powerhouses commanding the attention of millions of users’ eyeballs for a lot of time each day.

The Matchup
The big difference between Facebook and Google lies in their draw of new and returning users. Facebook attracts new users through the forces of human nature, specifically the desire to shout down a long hallway hoping people listen (i.e., the desire to communicate or, more specifically, to silently stalk or whine incessantly about mundane things). Most users come to Facebook to share, comment, play, stay connected, or some combination thereof. While eyes are glued to the blue and white goodness, advertisers pay to get their messages to you backed by the delightful demographic info that Facebook uses to target ads to users.

Google, on the other hand, built free tools––often some of the best free alternatives on the market––for its users and then built an advertising model around it. Stamped with the “do no evil” mantra and avoiding the missteps of the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo, Google’s free approach was refreshing and adopted by users of all types. Google has an audience of users who already use its core applications like Gmail, Google Calendar, Contacts, Picasa, Google Maps, Google Earth, etc., across multiple devices––from desktop to mobile to tablet. These users have Google accounts and already understand how the arsenal of Google products interacts. Adding social media to that arsenal is easy and natural. Instead of receiving an email or pushing notifications to a mobile device or Gmail account, you can receive notice of social interaction through the status bar now found at the top of many Google applications.

Facebook is continually adding new features. An underlying function of many of Facebook’s new bells and whistles has been to keep users on the site longer. Facebook users already spend an average of 14 minutes on the site per day, and the longer users stay, the more ad revenue Facebook earns. Facebook has added features like Chat, Games, and iFrames integration to its business pages, where companies can create engaging experiences that will keep users on Facebook instead of clicking out to other sites. Google, on the other hand, already has users coming to its sites daily to use core productivity applications like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar. Those key productivity functions combine both business and personal use, and it is these overlapping reasons for visiting Google sites that is a massive advantage for Google.

Facebook has fumbled with privacy and security issues over the past five years, and limited differentiation between groups of “friends” makes sharing content complicated. Facebook added “Lists,” allowing users to combine groups of friends and share limited content, but the feature was added years after the start of the platform. The security and privacy settings for Facebook have been complicated from the beginning, and with each new release and update, the settings have become even more complicated. The average user may be sharing content with the world and have little knowledge of what he or she is sharing. Many argue that it is in the best interest of companies providing social tools to educate and protect their users’ privacy above all else. Facebook has failed its users again and again in terms of privacy, but it is Facebook’s failures and missteps that can guide Google+ toward larger user adoption.

Google+ Circles vs. Facebook Friends

Let’s be honest, few people really have hundreds of friends if you define friend as someone close to you with whom you share personal thoughts or experiences. Many users with hundreds of friends (Facebook claims the average is 130 per user) would consider only a limited number among their close friends. Facebook doesn’t provide an intuitive way to share content with specific groups of people. Google+ is based on the concept of “Circles,” or groups of friends combined by any label the user chooses. By default, Google+ offers Friends, Acquaintances, Follows, and Family. With the ability to make your own circles, the sky is the limit, not only for sharing but for parsing the streams of content each circle shares in order to further connect with your contacts.

As Google+ increases its user base and Google+ “Entity Pages” (for businesses and brands) are introduced in the coming months, the competitive pressure from a different social media platform will make waves across the net. Facebook needs to adapt to the pressure, but based on its history, the adaptation will hinge on user adoption and innovative features, which Google has also proven itself capable of over the past 5 years. Hang on folks, it may be a wild ride, but why not join both and compare Google+ and Facebook for yourself? Now we must begin to think about whether to include a new platform in our social media mix…

Author: John Carew


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