750 million people can’t be wrong. At least, that seems to be the philosophy at Google, which had Facebook firmly set in its sights last week as it launched its latest attempt at social networking.
The whole premise of Google+ -- and what differentiates it from its competitors Facebook and Twitter -- is that the user dictates what they share with which people. It does this by letting you group your contacts into something called “Circles”; you can have a separate circle of friends, of colleagues, of family, of random strangers, and then only share thoughts among those groups.
It’s a clever move. Despite having over 750 million worldwide users, Facebook has always had an “act first, think later” approach when it comes to users’ privacy. It’s the one aspect of the service that most irritates Facebook users, and was the spark behind rival start up services like Diaspora, which is currently in private Alpha.
Even Google itself felt the backlash of privacy advocates when they launched Buzz last year, automatically switching it on for every Gmail user and making email addresses and contact lists public as a default setting.
The upside is that Google+ seems to have learned many lessons from both Google’s and Facebook’s past mistakes. Google has made a point to emphasise that Plus is a “project” not yet ready for primetime, although it does feel a little too polished for a beta service. Yet despite only being a pre-launch, invite-only service, Google+ has seen plenty of positive press since its unveiling last week.
But positive press can only get you so far. Whether it stands a chance of competing with Facebook in the long term relies purely on how well - and how quickly - it can scale to mass adoption. The reason Facebok is successful isn’t because of (or in spite of) its privacy settings or its customisability -- it’s because almost everyone you know is on there using it regularly.
While initial demand was overwhelming for Google+, to the point where Google had to temporarily suspend the invite program, it still a long way from reaching Facebook’s numbers, which means it’s a far cry from seriously competing with Zuckerberg’s baby.
With some time, plenty of support from developers and a solid marketing campaign, Google+ could be hugely successful and potentially rival Facebook for the position of de facto social network/office timewaster.
But even if that happens, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a David Fincher film based on this particular social network. Which kind of says it all, really.