There has been much discussion about how Google + will effect Facebook; however, we believe that Google + is much more of a threat to Twitter than Facebook. Facebook already has the market hold on friends and family but Google + offers a much more engaging experience for work-related networking and interaction: much more than simply sharing links, giving thanks or letting people know what you're doing (as is the case with Twitter).
One of the major differentiating features of Google + is the way its foundations are built upon Circles (Google's name for their group handling feature). To be sure Facebook has had its Lists (which never really took off) and has been much more successful with its Groups; however, groups in general have not been part of Facebook's DNA. The ability to place people into Circles is ever present throughout Google +; making what would otherwise be an arduous task into a breeze. The Circles allow you to easily control sharing options on every post and even allow you to quickly flick between news streams of your friends, people you follow, colleagues, etc.
Putting contacts into Google Circles is a breeze (image by Google)
The initial rapid uptake of Google + (25 million in under a month) must have spooked Facebook at least a little since we have seen them rapidly trying to improve upon their Group sharing and creation capabilities. Zuckerberg puts the failure of Facebook Lists down to the effort required to make them, so the question still remains as to whether Google +'s easier handling of group "lists" will be enough to sufficiently reduce the hurdle. Tom Anderson, MySpace co-founder, recently wrote a Google + post that nicely captures the differences between the two different approaches to groups:
"The Facebook Groups feature is designed in a way so that users who do care to do the work, can. Someone invites you, and you're in the group without you having to take any action. (In fact, you have to do some work to get out of the Group!) Zuckerberg points out that this is how friend requests work as well--there's always a select few who do all the friending, and the rest of us just follow along, with a much easier "approval." Facebook's Groups were designed in a way to overcome the friend list problem. They've grown quickly, even if 95% of the userbase can't be bothered to make their own groups."
I believe a potential middle ground would be for Google + to allow you to share your Circles with other people – so that each Circle would remain a uniquely controlled version, but with meta-data linking it to all the other offspring groups, so that if someone adds a member to a related group you would be offered the chance to add that person to your version as well.
There seems to be a golden honeymoon period with significant new social services, whereby the truly great and the great unwashed are prepared to rub shoulders together as they explore the new territory, for example, this recent Google+ exchange of a Finnish friend of mine with Jeff Jarvis. But as the fresh glow starts to wear off Google + it will remain to be seen if such interaction continues.
Larry Page kitesurfing in Alaska.
Finally, there is the issue of searching and exporting your data, something that Facebook does not offer and might not be able to offer even if they wanted to due to major weakness in its original core coding structure (at least that's what I was told by a cloud computing expert). As time passes this starts to look like an incredible loss of personal data and effort. For this reason alone I am hoping Google + will continue to grow as, apart from being a great service, it also comes with Google's Data Liberation Front promise — Google's other products, such as Gmail, have a proven track record of search and export capabilities.
I will continue to use Facebook for friends and family, however, I am definitely in the process of moving all work related social networking into Google +. Hope to see you there too! You should still be able to open a Google + account through this link.
T. Richard von Kaufmann
NOTE: If you have been using Google + you have probably been inundated with opinions and tips on how to use it — since that is currently one of the favourite topics of conversation in the space at the moment. This is only naturally as it still a sparkly new toy for most, but I personally have already found plenty of other kinds of useful content and believe it has great value and long-term potential.