CIO Symmetry

Jul 8 2011   2:45PM GMT

Can the new Google social network overtake Facebook?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Facebook and Google have been at war for years. They want your eyes on their sites, and they’ll do anything toward that goal.

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the potential new heir to the Facebook throne, Google+ (G+). The new Google social network started quietly accepting new users two weeks ago but now early adopters are rushing to join G+ in levels that have exceeded Google’s capacity, causing it to flick on and off invitation and registration capability as it tries to contend with the huge demand.

That sound you hear? That’s the beginning of the huge exodus of Facebook users over to G+.

Once you’re inside G+, you might notice that Google Wave and Google Buzz were prototypes — or perhaps beta releases — for a more robust, integrated Google social network. Aesthetically, the G+ system is very clean and pure, as though the GUI were designed by a Swedish furniture maker. There are some analogs to Facebook’s design — for instance, instead of a “Like” you push the Google +1 button — but G+ has the benefits of slick new toys like Hangouts, which integrates a video chat room component for entire Circles as you’ve defined it. Of course, if you’re already using Gmail, G+ knows who you’re conversing with via email and will helpfully make suggestions to populate your Circles. Similarly, G+ is expected to integrate the sharing feature in Google Reader to automatically share to your G+ network. The organic relationship with its own applications gives the Google social network a huge advantage over Facebook.

The general interaction with my social network is already very robust and — forgive the generalization — seems a bit more intellectual and witty than Facebook. Perhaps this dinner-party atmosphere is due to self-selection in this first month. The kinds of people who are interested in jumping on trends are at the G+ party, while the more Luddite social media participants are still playing Mafia Wars on Facebook. Or maybe the discourse has been more interesting because there are fewer distractions: There are no creepy surveys (at least, not yet) or announcements about one’s Farmville status. Or maybe everyone is just still experimenting with the GUI.

The G+ circles are a tad confusing at first, but when you realize that it’s just like the Facebook friend groups out in the open, it becomes more organic. Mark Zuckerburg seems to feel threatened by this approach and took a dig at G+ circles earlier this week.

So why the rush to adopt? Perhaps it’s the allure of a clean slate: a chance to undo the bad decisions made on Facebook.  Did you “Facebook friend” (yes, it’s a verb now) your teenage sweetheart on a whim and now are subjected to numerous status updates on their insane political stance? Instead of forcing the issue, you have a chance to simply avoid connecting with that person in a whole new environment. It’s a bit like the teenage movies where a nerd switches to a new school and gets a whole new identity: the promise of a perfect social network.

G+ does not yet have capacity for Business Pages, and while it does not actively ban businesses from signing up for the system, it does warn that businesses may have to create new profiles and rebuild their Circles when Google+ for Businesses is implemented. However, this should serve as a good reminder to check those social media strategies and update them to include the Google social network technologies and schema.

Just the same, you should check it out for your personal use. If G+ overtakes Facebook as the social media network of dominance — and the general feel of the first two weeks indicates that it will — late adopters will have to spend a lot of time playing catch up.

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