What a day. In the space of a few short hours, Google+wrenched open the floodgates, allowing anyone to sign up for the fledgling social network — while Facebook retooled its News Feed so you won’t miss any of your friends’ vital updates.
Google+ managed to out-announce Facebook by a wide margin. The search giant offered a slew of new Google+ features, such as turning Hangouts into a bona fide broadcast platform. The search giant even added — you guessed it — search to the service.
For those of you not in Google+, which is most of you, this is a very big deal. Google+ has, by some measures, almost 20 million users and no way of finding anything. I have no idea why Google waited to introduce search until Google+ was out of the hands of Google’s more trusted web cognoscenti’ audience. We could have debugged it for them. The company also managed to bury the lead, putting the fact that registration for Google+ is now open to the masses near the end of its announcement.
Facebook took one look at what Google was doing with the only social network that can really challenge it, and jumped. It announced changes to the News Feed that might have waited until the start of the f8 developers conference, which begins Thursday.
As I’ve said before, Facebook’s lead in the social space is beyond substantial — but clearly the company feels the heat. Google+’s wealth of announcements and features makes it, I think, instantly competitive with Facebook. Even so, Google+ is so rich that it could overwhelm typical Facebook users who want to confine their usage patterns to the Facebook tools they know and love.
Google’s Hangouts, for instance, is pretty much a standalone application. Look at all the things you can do with it:
- Hold hangouts via Android smartphone
- Share your screen
- Draw together
- Create and edit documents together
- Hold topic-based hangouts
- Run your own TV network
Okay, that last one was an exaggeration, but there is the aforementioned new broadcast feature. You and up to nine of your friends can hold a Hangout and then broadcast it to the world. Google picked a few stars, like Will.i.am, to run some of the early ones.
There is some one-upmanship in the moves between Google and Facebook, to put it mildly. Google believes in Google+ and sees an opportunity to grab some market share from the still-hot, but relatively mature Facebook.
Facebook has a roadmap, so it’s doing more than simply reacting. But you know there has to be some tension in their Palo Alto offices.
The next few weeks and months will be especially telling for Google+. It’s been populated with a ton of early adopters and tech-savvy folks. It’s like its entire audience consists of One Percenters. What happens when average people join and do what they often do: look around and leave? It took years for Facebook to build up the level of interaction it enjoys today. Google+ Circles will encourage close-knit community interaction, but how will those weaned on ad-hoc groups like Google’s more rigid circles of trust?
On Facebook, most people use little of the rich feature set and have scant patience for all the settings. In fact, most don’t even bother with them (how often do you see photos that you know your friends never intended to share?). Google+’s feature set is more organized, but also pretty highly visible. Will this encourage usage or turn people off in the end?
I don’t know — I’m too busy sitting ringside, watching the Facebook vs. Google+ bout and enjoying the show.