Google+ has exploded from a standing start to an estimated 20 million users in just over a month, and it is still in the beta-testing ‘invitation only’ phase. Google have been criticised before for their failure to muscle in on the social media market (Google Wave and Google Buzz being just two tentative aborted steps in this direction), but Google+ has built up a lot of momentum, and Facebook, the current king of social networking, must be worried and glancing back over their shoulders down the information superhighway, at the burnt-out corpses of previous toppled giants like Myspace, Bebo, Friendster and others. So what advantages does Google+ have over Facebook?
The first and most obvious advantage is that Google+ has been developed by the search giant Google, whereas Facebook was the brainchild of Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg. While Google’s “Do no evil” slogan has been tarnished by a decade in the field, the company has an astonishingly high level of public support thanks to a succession of insanely popular products. Facebook on the other hand is a one trick pony, and the company has not been helped by a cavalier attitude towards its users’ data security, a fairly uncomplimentary film about its founder (The Social Network) and a series of upgrades each of which has confused and irritated casual users. Google+ has the advantage of being a breath of fresh air, and from a trusted supplier of quality web services.
Also, Google+ is in a position to learn from Facebook’s mistakes. From the outset, users have been able to group contacts together in circles, controlling which of their friends see which content. Facebook loyalists have pointed out that it is possible to do with Facebook, creating lists of friends, but it was a feature added later in the site’s development and many users have no ideas how it works. Google+ has its circles built into the core offering, and is very slick. It’s also much easier to delete friends than with Facebook.
The graphical interface of Google+ also gives the new service an aesthetic edge over Facebook, the ability to drag and drop friends from group to group is a leap forward for social networking, and makes the site feel more like a software application. It’s a more powerful system, which enables users to manage their networks with a couple of clicks, rather than the more vertical structure of Facebook.
Sharing content is also easier with Google+ than with Facebook, in the opinion of some people. It is a system which has been designed with the +1 button (Google’s answer to Facebook’s ‘like’ button, which was rolled out in May 2011) in mind, as well as micro-blogging services such as Twitter.
Google+ has superior design, more intuitive controls and has avoided some of the features which have not been so popular on Facebook. It has been designed to work with smartphones and other mobile devices from the outset and builds on Google’s massive existing brand. The other main advantage that it has over Facebook is, however, the simple fact that it’s new. Facebook has been the huge social networking story of the last five years, but its reputation has been tarnished by repeated negative PR and people are just ready to look at a new offering in this space.