Over the past two weeks I have joined the other social media lemmings –we prefer the term “early adopters”– in wheeling and dealing our way into the possession of a Google+ invite and with it, exclusive fresh tracks access to the latest social network to hit the interwebs. And while I have not gone as far as throwing a match over my shoulder onto a gasoline soaked Facebook page, there has been a collectively vocalized sense of relief that finally there is a viable alternative, and one that does things differently, arguably better. The burdens and strains of managing a single online identity under the gaze of friends, co-workers, ex-girlfriends and inlaws in one grand sweeping gesture becomes a little much and it would seem that this is the main reason why we are gladly leaving one social network community so readily for another: we can once again return our lives to their previously fractured and compartmentalized states.
So will Google+ kill Facebook? Will it kill everything and just completely take over the world? Perhaps. In preparation for this possibility here are a few notable victims who could eventually find themselves on the +1 chopping block.
The First Victim: Facebook
While Facebook has made notable attempts to extend its reach beyond its walls through tools like Facebook Connect and Facebook Comments, part of its attraction for a good majority of its members is the somewhat misled sense of privacy that it conveys. It is a walled community on the web, where one can happily blog and post away without the threat of trolls or any of the other nastiness that is rumoured to lurk beyond its walls. There was a moment when the Facebook team seemed to be trying to tear these walls down and open the app up to the bigger badder world but it was made very clear by its members that they preferred that Facebook stay closed. As a result, Facebook has remained a destination, a very large, overcrowded destination with a population exceeding 750 million people but a destination none the less.
Google, on the other hand, has weaved itself into the very fabric of the online experience and, arguably even beyond the screen into our daily existence. The brilliance of Google’s social media play at this point in time is that it has all the extensions that a good social network needs already well in place: Google Reader, Picassa, Gmail, Maps, Analytics, Google Ads, not to mention a little thing called YouTube. Laying a social network over top of such a solid foundation seems like a no brainer, whereas Facebook started out as a basic social network and has since been scrambling to add features that keep it relevant in the face of its contenders. Anyone who has had experience behind the scenes on Facebook knows that programming within the space is basically a hack job, employing tricks and coding standards that are easily 5 years out of date. You can’t efficiently search the web from Facebook and if you do, you are using Bing to do it. While Google’s Tools are fully integrated within its system, Facebook risks a “Frankenstein” scenario whereby a year from now it is barely recognizable as its former self due to the number of add ons and third party features it has duct taped onto its initial build.
I have always thought that it would be a most fitting irony for the Facebook Killer to use Facebook Connect to facilitate the mass exodus. And there, on the startgoogleplus page is the first stage of this exact scenario, an invitation to import your Facebook photos over to Picassa. Add to this the ability to easily cross post to Facebook and Twitter and it is only a matter of time before a good number of updates on both of these platforms are being phoned in from the Google+ space.
The Second Victim: Twitter
For as much as I have always held Twitter in high regard for keeping their offering simple and focussed, this might be the very thing that ends up leading to its demise. In the pre-Google+ realm, Facebook stood as the platform where you shared and conversed with your friends and family (and eventually every known corporation and a few hundred other people who you realized you actually didn’t know all that well) Twitter, in contrast, is more far reaching, an open conversation to which you need not be invited to either initiate or reply. As William Gibson so succinctly put it: “Facebook feels like a mall. Twitter feels like the street.”‘
But Google+ offers both of these communication vantage points. And while we have become used to jumping from platform to platform and seeking out tools to cross-post Tweets to Walls, I for one would gladly welcome a solution where it could all be taken care of in one place.
Steve Rubel has recently admitted that his time on Google+ is dipping more into his Twitter pool than anywhere else and has made an early call on the app’s not too distant descent into irrelevance. I have also observed that unless you are part of a Twitter community and engaged in daily conversation with your Tweeps, then Twitter is quick to lose its allure and fairly easy to walk away from. Especially when there is something as alluring as my next Google+ victim to steal your attention: Tumblr.
The Third Victim: Tumblr
When I started exploring Google+, one of the first things I thought was, “My god, if Google could buy Tumblr and hook the two up, it would win everything.” But I have come to realize that Google already has a weapon in its belt that could achieve a similar result in the form of Google Reader. The Share feature on Google Reader has always been confusing to me seeing as I didn’t really maintain a Google network so I really had no idea who I sending those Share posts out to. Google+ now provides the ideal destination. No longer will our stream be filled by “Posted from Twitter” or “Posted from Tumblr” third party apps, it will all come from the parent source beautifully and seamlessly.
Tumblr currently has incredible momentum and has carved out a solid niche amongst the hip, young and beautiful. It is without a doubt my favourite place to hang out on the interwebs. But true universal success always depends on an evolution from the fringes of cool to the mainstream populace. If Google were able to beat them to the punch (again, with that very attractive promise of everything in one place) it might very well stunt Tumblr’s growth — a fate for Tumblr that I would selfishly love to see made manifest.
The Fourth Victim: Apple
Apple might not be a name that comes to mind when you think of social networks (Ping? no? really?), nor is it a company that finds its name alongside the term “victim” these days, but it is the dominant competitor of Google’s in the mobile space and soon to be going head to head in the OS and hardware realms as well. And here lies the real threat for Apple in my opinion: as soon as I started using Google+, I switched my browser alliance over to Chrome and, ever more indicative of what’s to come, I started to consider the idea that my next phone should perhaps be an Android rather than an iPhone seeing as the potential advancements and benefits over the course of the next two years with a mobile device that is seamlessly integrated with my social network platform are just too tempting to resist.
In the end, I am not actually predicting that any of these Google+ victims are going to be vanishing from our online experience anytime soon, if at all. But I do believe that the arrival of Google+ is a significant shift in the game. There is a long road ahead if they actually aim to lure Facebook’s majority to take the plunge (your great aunt Gertrude who finally joined Facebook just last week is probably not moving anywhere soon) but a success in the OS or hardware realm could help speed this migration. Of course, as the ebb and flow of time dictates, somewhere out in the farthest reaches of the world, there is some kid toying with a notion that will eventually grow and evolve to become the next big thing, and as evolution ultimately plays out, it will one day be Google that finds itself facing the gallows.
EDITOR’S NOTE 01-05-12: Since posting this at the height of Google+ fever, the platform has ever so sadly failed to deliver on any of the promise that is reflected in the optimistic perspective that this writer once held. Oh well…on to Pinterest!!!