Five Reasons Google+ Is Exploding -- and Could Actually Hurt Facebook

Why Wheaton's Concerns Are Overblown, and Why Zuckerberg Should Worry

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Simon Dumenco
Simon Dumenco

So Google+ obviously has some traction. Just a few weeks after its launch, Google CEO Larry Page revealed that the nascent social network already had 10 million users. But will it ultimately blow up enough -- and matter enough -- to become a problem for Facebook? Yeah, I think so. (Ad Age Managing Editor Ken Wheaton isn't so sure.) Here's why:

1. THE POWER OF METAPHORS.
Google+ has circles, Facebook has friends. The idea of grouping people into circles is hardly new -- just ask Dante -- but it's refreshing because I think it's safe to say that we're all pretty sick of the horrible things Facebook has done to the word "friend." Friending people was a lame concept at Friendster in 2002, it got lamer at MySpace in 2003 (Tom Anderson: everyone's friend!) and it got unbearably lame starting in 2004 thanks to Facebook. The suffocating hypergrowth of Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard-dorm project meant that friendship got converted into a form of conceptual Silly Putty. Which is why you're likely Facebook chums with distant relatives, random acquaintances, old high-school classmates and other assorted nudniks who guilted you into accepting their f-f-f... -- Damn it! Don't make me say it again! -- requests.

There is a banal, binary logic to Facebook's way of viewing reality. Google+ is also, of course, a giant, soulless spreadsheet stored on endless racks of humming servers, but at least it very simply and elegantly allows us to do what comes naturally to us as humans: compartmentalize our lives.

2. GOOGLE+ IS A PURPOSE-BUILT ANNEX, NOT NEW CONSTRUCTION.
In a recent AdAge.com DigitalNext post, Ian Shafer, the CEO of Deep Focus, described Google+ as a "real-time content-sharing and discovery engine" that offers "tight integration with Google's own suite of content creation and consumption products and properties." Google+, in other words, is a new window into a world most all of us already inhabit. Google's new social network simply gives us a familiar -- but more flexible -- tool set to navigate that world ... seamlessly.

3. GOOGLE+ IS A CHANCE FOR A SOCIAL-MEDIA DO-OVER.
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post recently wrote that Google+ offers "an opportunity to start over, to build your social network with years of Facebook experience in mind, rather than having to face the accretion of mistakes and miscalculations you made over almost a decade of trial-and-error with a new technology." I agree! Klein also writes that "It's not Facebook's fault that 'what it means' to have a Facebook account has changed four or five times over the last few years, even as most of us have only had one profile over that period." And here I disagree because of ...

4. FACEBOOK RAGE.
TheAtlantic.com recently published a list of "The 19 Most Hated Companies in America" based on data from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. Thanks to privacy concerns, Facebook is No. 10, putting it in such august company as Comcast and JPMorgan Chase. Now I'm not saying that Google+ doesn't have its own privacy issues, but I do think there is a critical mass of consumer resentment toward Facebook's general arrogance and its dodgy shape-shifting over the years in regard to its default sharing settings. We mostly haven't done anything (until now) about our collective Facebook rage because, well, what were we going to do? Go back to MySpace?

5. THE SOCIAL-MEDIA PORTABILITY PROBLEM IS OVERBLOWN.
Facebook reports that its average user has 130 "friends." In reality, I think most Facebook users -- including self-absorbed media, marketing and tech people who might pride themselves on high friend counts -- maintain considerably smaller clusters of actually meaningful Facebook connections. We may technically have 130 (or 400 or 2,000) friends, but in practice we're regularly sharing information with a truly engaged audience in the low dozens, if that .

It's exhausting for us media/marketing/tech dorks to contemplate moving our many hundreds or thousands of "friends" away from Facebook -- so we have a distorted view of the so-called social-media-portability problem. (As for populating Google+ with our content: See No. 2, above.)

But let's not forget recent history: Millions of regular people moved from Friendster to MySpace and from MySpace to Facebook without breaking a sweat.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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