Simply put, Google = search, Facebook = social, but when Facebook’s 2006 deal with Microsoft expanded to include search, Google got nervous. If the world’s largest social network could offer full search then why would you go anywhere else?
Fast forward and we’d all have to name our children based on availability of profile names, likes would replace exam results, BBQ invites to friends would have to be approved by the Lords of Facebook… digital apocalypse!
Stepping back to reality, Google needs a social product in order to protect its search empire. Initial offerings Google Wave & Buzz were overly complex and poorly received, but its latest offering, Google+, looks to have the cojones to square up to Facebook’s dominance of the social domain.
It’s early days, but a few of us here have been playing with Google+ for a week or so and here are 6 reasons why I think it can step into the ring.
1. The +1 button
If you haven’t seen it already then you will shortly see the Google +1 button appear alongside other social media icons on a website near you. It functions much like the Facebook Like button as a way to quickly flag something to your social network.
The difference is that the +1 button also appears alongside Google search results and if like me and millions of others, you sign into gmail in the morning, you’re going to start seeing those +1s a lot more than Facebook’s Like button. As your social contacts click those +1s their preferences will appear in your search results bringing the incredible power of peer-review to Google search, a feature that was until now, missing.
2. SEO & Control
Google have suggested that people clicking on +1 for your content will boost your web-site’s placement in search results. Dutch company SEOeffect detailed an experiment in using the +1 to augment their search rankings and found a strong positive effect.
If placing a +1 button on your website can improve search ranking and ultimately traffic to your website, this is a going to be a huge draw for millions of website owners, brand managers and stakeholders uneasy about ceding control over their loaned content by placing it on Facebook.
If you use one of the legion of google apps, then you’ll notice that Google+ is built into the suite interface. You can monitor all Google+ events (updates, messages, etc.) as well as share content while reading gmail or composing a letter in Google docs. A visit to Facebook requires a new browser window and login. While hardly a back-breaking chore in itself, good user experience and usability is about streamlining tasks, removing small hurdles and making the actual interaction invisible.
When Facebook moved the messages notification, it took me months for me to find it again, and I’ve only recently figured out that control+return let’s you force a line break in the message/update panel and not submit a partially composed update or message.
With lessons learned from Wave and Buzz, Google+ seems to have the got the balance right and delivered a product with solid user experience and clarity, sprinkled with some charming touches. It makes the usability mess that are the peripheral functions in Facebook look old fashioned.
Understanding that people have different relationships with one another and what offends one audience may delight another, Google has created a simple way for user to group people. Called Circles, they allow you to choose which group will see a particular update and provide a way to filter the stream of incoming updates. Filtering is the strength of apps such as Tweetdeck and it’s still surprising to me that it hasn’t been added to the core of Facebook with its ‘everybody sees everything’ approach.
Built into Google+ is a service called Sparks. Think of it as an RSS reader. Sparks will find content based on your interests, but its strength is its integration into the Google+ interface. It has the same sharing functionality as the streams for your Circles so sharing is effortless. Facebook doesn’t have any curation functionality other than what your friends have already found or what’s served to you via ads. Another + for Google (excuse the pun).