MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, Google Wave, Google Buzz, Ping.
All brand names that meant something once, some of which had tens of millions of users in the online social space, all have something else in common; they tried to be David to Facebook’s Goliath and came off worse.
All of them brought something new to the online social space, a different way to interact with other members, a quirky feature or niche focus. All of them also went the way of the Dodo (barring a few clingy tumbleweeds), and most of those features have been aped by Facebook.
The reasons for their failures are varied, but the end result is the same. Facebook continues to dominate our online social interactions, and with the external feed integration changes Facebook announced at F8, it seems they want to become the landing page for your entire internet experience.
There have been contenders who have stuck it out though; Twitter is a great example of a social network which has managed to hold its own. Whether this is because of its success as a high speed news delivery platform, or the inherent simplicity of the user interface, Twitter for now, can stand alone.
Google + has come at an interesting time, there is research showing that we are experiencing ‘Facebook fatigue’ due to extensive media coverage, data ownership and regular security setting modifications. Facebook’s latest UI revision has also been met with significant criticism, though Facebook has weathered similar storms in the past. This has all come to the fore at the time that Google + has gone from ‘invitation beta’ to public launch.
What Google + has brought is an interesting way to controlling your content distribution and a smart UI, which allows you to very precisely control what is visible to whom when you post content. Another feature is a multi-user video chat function called Hangouts. Google have also cleverly integrated Google + into the menu bar of their main search engine page, thereby exposing it to users on over 90 million searches a day.
Whether neat functionality and high levels of exposure will be enough to keep Google + above water are questions that only time can tell the answer to. Google + has grown very quickly, in fact it is estimated to have over 20 million users already, which far outstrips the performance of any of Google’s previous attempts to enter the social space. The problem is that Facebook at current estimates has 800 million users, 50% of which will check their profile every day.
The new Facebook…
Personally I think Google + has an uphill challenge in front of it; Facebook has already integrated Subscriptions and Lists, which mimic Circles, so the question is does Google have anything else in the toolbox? To me the classic error of any new social media website is to try and ‘be the new Facebook’, not because the site itself might not be up to scratch, but because users are lazy and don’t like change.
Having been using Google + for a couple of months now, I’m still undecided. There are parts I’m really fond of, like the clutter free UI and parts I really dislike, such as the people finder. The latest figures show a thirteen-fold growth in traffic to Google + since their public launch, so there may be hope yet for the network’s survival.
What are your thoughts, does Google have the ammunition to take on Facebook and win, or do you think Google + will follow the footsteps of Wave and Buzz?
Alex Walker, Accountants’ Team