Google+ or Minus: Do We Need Another Social Network?

Earlier this week I got a coveted invitation to Google+ from one of my Facebook friends, and like the other 10 million early adopters I spent a good chunk of time kicking the tires and experimenting with it.

In essence it really is not very different than earlier versions of Facebook, albeit with a radical new way of grouping members of your network into different “circles”. Circles allow you to post to a select group in your network; you can allow your “friends” to see different content from what you broadcast to your “family”, which can come in handy for college students who don’t want their folks back home to see what they’re up to. There’s a live stream, you can post pictures and video, and comment on other peoples’ posts. Google+ even has an answer to the Facebook “like” in the form of a “+1”, which is already popping up on other web pages for full web integration.

At this point, Google+ is not yet allowing business pages, and advertising opportunities are not yet apparent. However, Google says this will change soon as they want individual users to populate the network first. Ultimately advertising and marketing will find their ways into Google+ because, let’s face it, Google doesn’t exist to not make money. And advertising provides the money that fuels the web machine.

But for most of this week I couldn’t escape one nagging question: why do I need to be on Google+ if I already have a well-established and highly-interactive social network on Facebook? I’ve never asked that question about LinkedIn because of its focus on creating a business atmosphere, and i’ve never asked that question about Twitter because it’s a different animal altogether. But the Google+ question is bothering me.

It’s easy to write off Google+ as being a second rate version of Facebook at this point because it is out-of-the-package brand new. There are only about 10 million users as of right now, and the overwhelming majority are male. There have been a few bugs and kinks to work out and the user interface is (in my opinion) a bit clunky too. Proponents will say that this is an opportunity to escape their old network on Facebook with its heavy advertising presence, and Google+ claims it will offer privacy options that Facebook doesn’t have. But is that enough?

It’s tempting to try and compare this with the original TV networks that sprang up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, saying that consumers deserve options for where they get their content. But TV networks developed original content themselves–in social networks, the users develop the content and the network is just a platform for interaction. This is more like the telephone. Originally there was only one phone company and it stood alone for decades until deregulation created Baby Bells and communications conglomerates. But the phone companies are just networks too, and they integrate very well with each other unlike Facebook and Google+. They are both competing for social media dominance, while desperately trying not to become parity products of each other.

And that is what makes the introduction of Google+ so great: the users will ultimately decide which social media network wins. This will keep both networks on their toes catering more and more to the users, because social networks without a thriving, interactive and dynamic user base have nothing to offer other than a portal to connect.

As proof, we offer Exhibit A: Myspace.